Keeping Atlanta as ‘The City in the Forest’
By Greg Levine, Co- Executive Director & Chief Program Officer, Trees Atlanta
As visitors fly into our city, they are amazed at the forest beneath them. While local citizens may take less notice of the greenery until they move away, many new residents coming from the Midwest or West Coast have a mild fascination and even a love of their new city’s tree cover. A friend from Oklahoma often reminds me that after watching “Gone with the Wind” as a child, he was determined to move to Atlanta for the charming accents and the giant oak and pine trees.
Our trees make Atlanta unique among large and medium-sized cities across the country. Many view them as our natural identity, making our city special. Our trees create a more beautiful city, give a feeling of quaintness, and make our sidewalks, streets, and summers more hospitable—not to mention the great value of our forest to air and water quality, as well as wildlife habitat. Though our downtown could still use more forest cover, especially around Turner Field and the gulch areas, the city has much forest left to celebrate.
As Atlanta grows, we need to work together to protect our reputation as “The City in the Forest.” Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed is working to do that. Proud of the city’s tree cover, he has created a goal of keeping our tree canopy cover at no less than 48%. This lofty goal is appreciated by many Atlantans, but there are many challenges ahead because the metro area is one of the fastest developing communities in the country. Recent statistics have Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb Counties as three of the 10 counties in the Southeast with the greatest tree loss.
The city’s long-term viability is at stake, and as a community we need to come together to protect what makes Atlanta unique, by balancing growth and green. The development communities, along with our elected officials, have a significant stake in this. Together, we can identify and embrace the most creative and innovative design solutions, and incorporate the best of urban planning that lets us grow and build while still being “The Tree City.” A few ideas that the city could pursue include purchasing undeveloped healthy forest that is contiguous to other preserved green space (using tree recompense funds), requiring that parking lots be designed so that trees grow to be of significant size/age, and developing high density zoning to require green space that includes planting groups of trees beyond the usual street trees.
This is the time to implement the vision of a city in a “healthy” forest, and one that is protected and sustainable. We must all contribute to it by being open-minded, working together, and caring about the city’s future generations. In the long run, we can all thrive if we create a balance of growth and green.