Eleven years in the making, Rodney Cook Sr. Peace Park has opened as a monument to harmony in Atlanta.
Named for a longtime Buckhead resident who served in the Georgia House of Representatives for six years, the 16-acre park opened July 7 in Atlanta’s Vine City community.
It includes a statue of late District 5 U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, which will be joined in the next 18 to 24 months by 17 other statues of well-known peacemakers from the past 300 years, including Martin Luther King Jr. A 15-story peace column, with a statue of Yamacraw Indian Chief Tomochichi posted at the top, is also planned.
Buckhead resident Rodney Cook Jr., Cook’s son, is president of the National Monuments Foundation, one of the organizations involved in the project. He said the park has already become a popular spot for the community after visiting it the day before the grand opening, which was delayed by eight days due to rain.
“I was over there around 7 in the evening, and the sun is setting, the city skyline embraces the park with loving arms, and some of the mirrored buildings were gleaming from the sunset,” he said. “The public had absolutely moved in. There were a couple thousand people there.”
Residents were even looking under the sheet covering Lewis’ statue before its unveiling to get a closer look.
“It made the whole 11-year period worth it, seeing the kids enjoying it, their place, and enjoying their history that John represents,” Rodney Jr. said.
Costing between $60 million and $70 million, the park is a public-private partnership that includes the foundation, the Atlanta mayor’s office and its watershed management and parks departments, the Trust for Public Land and the Vine City Civic Association. The city is paying $45 million, with the trust contributing up to $18 million and the foundation chipping in $7 million, Rodney Jr. said.
In addition to having sports and youth activities (including a basketball court, playground and splash pad), it will also include urban farming programs and a 10,000-volume library of documents from the families of King and C.T. Vivian. The park one day plans to include a peace university that would offer graduate degrees in peace administration.
Cook Park sits on floodplain land that housed the former Wachendorff nursery. District 3 Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr., who represented the area until his death in 2018, was one of the officials who helped make the park a reality. In a video from the park’s grand opening, Demetrius Myatt, Young’s former chief of staff, said the greenspace came out of “a trial and tribulation.”
“There was a flood that happened (in 2002) in this community that you see directly behind us, and because of this flood, the community entered into a public-private partnership and created the retention pond you see over here to the left, and the retention pond is (meant) to really help with the flooding within this community,” Myatt said. “This small square footage is probably the most flood-prone community, really, almost, in the state of Georgia.”
In the video, Helen Williams-Bosten, a 30-year Vine City resident, added, “The fact that they have reached back and followed Councilman Young’s prompt to (build the park) within our community, he has really, really set the legacy for us to follow. I am so excited. I get out here every morning. I walk my dogs. I canvas the area. I love this park because it adds a great amenity to our community.”
In another video from the grand opening, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Cook Park represents Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) Q’s first current park, “which means now every NPU in the city has a park.”
“This area is so rich in history. It is where so many incredible people that are celebrated around the world called home,” she said.
Rodney Jr. called the park “an enormous engineering feat,” considering the city opted to place a 10 million-gallon cistern underground instead of going with its original plan of locating it above ground and constructing a large dam. By doing so, he added, “the park is twice as large” as first planned.
“Underneath that part is one of the most substantial watershed complexes in America, and you can’t even see it,” he said. “I’ve had numbers of people from other big cities come look at it, and they were shocked at how beautiful we made an engineering accomplishment. An average layman going to the park wouldn’t even notice it. …
“All of this stormwater and sewer (overflow) has been separated for the first time in 150 years. We deal with a third of the watershed problem between Five Points and the Chattahoochee River, in one place. And you can’t see it. Historically that whole area has had a great deal of flooding problems, but not anymore.”
The park’s creation also fulfilled a father’s dying wish, in a way. Rodney Sr., who died in 2013 at age 88, wanted his son to rebuild Historic Mims Park, the nearby greenspace that opened in 1898 and was named after Livingston Mims, Rodney Jr.’s distant uncle who served as Atlanta’s mayor from 1901-03. Mims Park was designed by Olmsted Brothers, a firm established by the sons of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
But Mims Park was demolished in the 1950s to make way for the Davis Street School, which today is Bethune Elementary School. Cook Park sits on adjacent land that housed the former Wachendorff nursery.
“That’s when he commanded me on video in the City Hall chamber (saying), ‘No, get on with it. Get this park built. Stop talking about it. Just get it done,” Rodney Jr. said. “That was a decade ago. I wasn’t going to stop until it was finished.”
Cook Park is located at 616 Joseph E. Boone Blvd. NW. For more information, visit rodneycooksrpark.org.