The City in the Forest
When I moved to Atlanta in 1974, having grown up in southern California, I was immediately struck by the tremendous forest canopy that seemed to stretch everywhere in the city. Atlanta was literally, a City in the Forest. In the center of that forest, there was an outcropping of office buildings in our Downtown that appeared to me, as I drove down I–75, like the Emerald City of Oz. As the city grew and skyscrapers extended out along the Peachtree spine and then sprouted in the suburbs around I–285, that tree canopy saw more penetrations. But Downtown held a special fascination. The sheer beauty of that Emerald City is something that many of us have grown complacent with over the years until we visit other parts of the country where this is not present.
What many of us don’t remember, however, was that when one traveled Downtown to Peachtree Center, Fairley Poplar, or Underground, Downtown and Midtown were literally an urban desert absent any meaningful tree canopy. Most Downtown streets had little green forestation and had a stark appearance. Georgia DOT actually considered sidewalk areas as vehicle collision avoidance safety zones, and discouraged the planting of trees which might damage a car if it had to swerve onto the sidewalk to avoid an accident. But by the 1980’s, attitudes were changing. Conceived by the combination of the City of Atlanta Parks Department, the Atlanta Junior League, and Central Atlanta Progress, Trees Atlanta sprung to life. Marcia Bansley was hired as its first Executive Director, and began a 35-year crusade to enhance Atlanta’s tree canopy.
Marcia’s organization became one of the most strategic non-profits in the entire city. More than any developer in the history of the city, Trees Atlanta did more to enhance the look of our urban corridors and Downtown neighborhoods. The power behind the enhancement of the streetscapes for the Democratic Party Convention in 1992, the 1996 Olympics, and literally all of Midtown, Downtown, Buckhead, and many of our urban neighborhoods today, was Trees Atlanta. With strong corporate sponsorship and support, we should thank Marcia Bansley and Trees Atlanta for their unwavering commitment to restore, enhance and broaden the urban canopy. Today, what gives us some of our highest marks on quality of life in national rankings, and keeps the entire city cool during these dog days of summer, are the beautiful oaks, maples, zelkovas and plane trees that make up our urban canopy. Thank you Marcia, and thank you Trees Atlanta for planting the frame around the picture, which today is our City in the Forest.
ULI Atlanta and its members look forward to celebrating with and thanking Marcia Bansley for her leadership at the 23rd Annual Awards for Excellence dinner on September 14, 2017. Marcia will be presented with the Dan & Tally Community Leadership Award in recognition for all she has done to make Atlanta a more lovable city.
Chairman, ULI Atlanta
Principal and Founder, Seven Oaks Company, LLC