Releaf for Atlanta

Atlanta, once a "city of trees," has lost some 20 percent of its forest cover in the past quarter century. Now an estimated 50 acres of greenspace disappears daily to development in the metro area. The city is so choked with gridlocked traffic that the Clinton Administration withheld federal highway funds. According to the Trust for Public Land, Atlanta ranks last among 25 cities of comparable population in terms of greenspace. But recent endeavors suggest "releaf" is on the way.

In the neighborhood of East Point, officials planned to build a new elementary school on 27 acres of woods containing 300-year-old oaks and rare pink lady slippers. Protests generated negotiations and an alternative plan in which the Conservation Fund would raise $1 million for the school board to build on another site.

In Atlanta proper, a group of neighbors and local environmentalists wanted to save some of the 75-acre Wildwood Forest in Morningside-Lenox Park from the bulldozers. The Nature Conservancy bought approximately 30 acres from the developer and is transferring the land to the city to designate as a park. The site harbors century-old hardwoods as well as hawks, foxes, turtles, owls and otters.

Even in booming upscale Buckhead, one neighborhood managed to gain a conservation easement astride a creek. The Blue Heron Nature Preserve—home to ducks, herons, otters and other animals—covers seven acres and may expand to 23 more.

In early July, a group called Parks Atlanta Rescue Coalition (PARC) 911 introduced a plan calling for Atlanta to triple its park acreage and add 300,000 trees. Marcia Bansley, executive director of Trees Atlanta, a PARC member, points to upcoming local elections and says, "We want candidates to know the citizens want this." She says that trees should be considered part of the city’s infrastructure. Among PARC 911’s goals are trails and parks within 10 minutes of every child in the city, better maintenance of parks and protection of stream corridors.

In related developments, neighboring Roswell and adjoining DeKalb County recently approved bond issues for greenspace. And Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) is a strong supporter.

Advocates of parks and urban forests point to several benefits of adding verdure, including enhanced tourism, better health, higher property values, natural habitat preservation and improved air and water quality.


Great blue herons are welcome guests, along with ducks and otters, at the Blue Heron Nature Preserve in suburban Buckhead, Georgia.
Jason Kremkau