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In effort to make city more welcoming, Avondale Estates removes lock from public park gate

Avondale Estates Crime and public safety

In effort to make city more welcoming, Avondale Estates removes lock from public park gate

The city of Avondale Estates recently removed a lock from a gate in a fence separating Willis Park from The Museum School. The move is intended to make the city more welcoming. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Avondale Estates, GA — The city of Avondale Estates recently announced that it would remove the lock on the fence gate separating Willis Park from the Museum School on Forrest Boulevard.

In the announcement, the city said, “The city has decided to remove the lock on the fence gate at Willis Park to provide better connectivity for residents and visitors and to be more welcoming to all.”

The recently formed Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice advocated removing the locks from the gates.

The site of Willis Park was conveyed to the city by town founder George Francis Willis in 1928.

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Mayor Jonathan Elmore said the move makes sense from the city’s perspective.

“You know, it’s a public park,” Elmore said. “We want to be better neighbors with Forrest Hills. It’s not the friendliest thing from a lot of people’s perspective and I agree with them, and a lot of our citizens like to walk through that gate.”

It isn’t the only cultural change in Avondale Estates that has occurred under Elmore’s leadership. Until 2017, signs at Lake Avondale and Willis Park said these amenities were exclusively for the city’s residents and violators could be prosecuted.

But why was there a fence and a locked gate at the park to begin with?

Commissioner Lisa Shortell, who lives near the park and moved to Avondale in 1990, said the fence was there when she moved in. When she moved in, she said there were apartments on Craigie Avenue nearby that has since been replaced by single-family homes. At the time, the apartments were a source of friction with the city of Avondale Estates.

“The perception in Avondale was that there was a lot of crime coming over from that area,” Shortell said. “I say perception. I can tell you we were victims of it.”

At the suggestion of the city’s police department, the city added more fencing to close off areas behind homes, she said. At one point, Shortell said, the fence was topped with barbed wire. The city added a gate with a lock when the Museum School opened in 2010.

“The gate was not put in the fence until the Museum School moved to that location,” Shortell said. “There was no gate there. There was only a fence.”

The gate was added to allow children to safely walk and bike to school without having to walk around the park.

In recent months, the conversation about Avondale Estates being unwelcoming to outsiders has accelerated due to protests over police brutality against people of color. Shortell said that it makes sense to unlock the gate now given that the apartments that created many of the problems were removed and given the city’s renewed commitment to being a welcoming community.

“That area has drastically improved in terms of people feeling safe when they’re over in that area,” Shortell said. “There’s all kinds of families and individuals now who are walking and biking. That area itself has a different feel. Even more than that, in Avondale, we’re working on becoming more connected and welcoming in our downtown and this is another extension of that.”

She said the change will benefit the city’s residents as well.

“There’s a lot of people out walking and biking and we want to support that activity and connectedness and I think the perception from Forrest Hills and Decatur Terrace has been they aren’t welcome,” Shortell said. “We don’t want them to have that perception. That’s another reason the gate came down. I see it as a two-way street. It’s good for our residents and people who want to come into our city.”

Mayor Elmore said he would like to replace the chain-link fence on Forrest Boulevard to a wrought iron fence.

“If Forrest Hills would annex into Avondale, that would create additional revenue that would help a project like that happen faster,” Elmore said.

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