Envisioning a Healthy Atlanta

By Deron Davis, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy

Super Bowl LIII is almost here, and Atlanta is abuzz. An estimated one million football fans, 150,000 out-of-town visitors, and an untold number of Georgians will descend on the downtown area, and our city’s fabled hospitality, attractions and civic pride will be on display to the world. As Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport welcomes arriving visitors, Atlanta’s highways and streets bustle with traffic, and hotels and home-shares fill up with guests, the city’s infrastructure—roads, public transit, the electrical grid and water system to name a new—will be put to the test. We’ll know soon enough how they fare. As an Atlanta native, I can’t resist the urge here to call your attention to the 2013 blackout that occurred during the big game in a different southern city.

Imagine for a moment, though, if Atlanta’s infrastructure had to withstand every day just half of the strain brought on by hosting a major national or international sporting event? Would the power grid hold up? Would there be enough available water for people to drink? Would the city be an even hotter heat island than it already is because of additional concrete from commercial and residential development and carbon emissions from cars and buses? Speaking of heat, would there be enough trees in Atlanta to provide critically important air filtration and cooling of our sidewalks and buildings?

The Nature Conservancy’s Urban Green Jobs program trains residents of Thomasville Heights to plant trees and improve forest health in their community.
The Nature Conservancy’s Urban Green Jobs program trains residents of Thomasville Heights to plant trees and improve forest health in their community.

With strong local, regional and state leadership and next-generation community engagement, this scenario will not be Atlanta’s reality, even as the population is expected to triple to 1.2 million by 2040. An expanding population puts a strain on our natural resources and impacts human health and quality of life. But, with smart planning, science-based solutions and strong partnerships, cities can be resilient, healthy and equitable. The Nature Conservancy is working with decision-makers and community partners in Atlanta to tackle some of the toughest problems facing people and nature. It’s an integral part of our mission to preserve nature and protect life.

We are:

  • Working with urban design leaders to create a vision for new public green space for the people of the city of Atlanta and DeKalb County
  • Helping ensure issues of equity, such as gentrification and housing affordability, are addressed openly and honestly with community members and developers in the places where we work
  • Connecting neighborhoods in the South River basin of SE Atlanta and south DeKalb County to opportunities to revitalize their streams and forests
  • Partnering with the members of the Atlanta Canopy Alliance to advocate for public greenspace and adopt an innovative tree ordinance to stand the test of time
  • Implementing the state’s new conservation fund to protect lands critical for clean drinking water and establish local parks and trails.

While our city won’t host huge sporting events every year, Atlanta’s growth is guaranteed and must be faced with clear heads, a clear vision and an abiding belief that working together we can build a future city that is ecologically and economically resilient and filled with healthy, livable neighborhoods where the benefits of nature are available to all people

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s global Healthy Cities priority here.

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