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Atlanta’s ‘green soul:’ Trees, the big picture, amid talk of a tree protection ordinance

By Guest Columnist OSCAR HARRIS, an Atlanta architect, entrepreneur and mentor

Atlanta’s trees are revered worldwide as our special natural “green soul” symbol of our city.

Oscar Harris

For all who come to visit, they all say that Atlanta is so green and connected to nature. Many of our many specimen trees have survived as many as 300 to 400 years, which is way beyond any of our significant manmade structures. Our trees are the recycling engines transforming our polluted and virus-containing air into what we breath every day. Without trees we would all die. Trees also serve as special place markers – spiritual places, outside meeting places, gatherings, weddings, even for our burial spots.

They also provide cooling canopies, protecting us from the sun, and they fertilize the earth. Large specimen trees take a long time to grow and cannot be replaced in one’s lifetime. They should deserve our upmost respect and conservation – as they are indeed God’s gift and Atlanta’s “green soul.”

Atlanta’s leafy tree canopy represented Atlanta to the world for in The Quilt of Leaves motif, chosen as the city’s symbol for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Courtesy: Oscar Harris

In 1995, I was fortunate to be named the creative design manager to design the look for the Atlanta’s Olympic Games. It was the Centennial Olympic Games and Atlanta had to produce a logo for this worldwide event. Guess what? After hours, months, of deliberation, it was The Quilt of Leaves motif that was chosen to represent our uniqueness, to be our symbol to the world.

Our trees, their canopies and green, is what everyone worldwide sees of Atlanta. It’s what sets us apart. This image, God’s gift, must be greatly protected, cherished and enhanced as Atlanta grows.

Atlanta is a very young city. Older cities have destroyed their specimen trees and replaced them with parking decks, roads and concrete heat traps. Now they wish they had those wonderful trees back. They will never come back as you cannot replant that tremendous loss.

As we move forward, we all need to understand that each of us in our own way must be better aware of God’s legacy gift that has been placed in our hands. Public education must be provided on ways we all can provide care and nurture our great trees. Our respect of trees must be ingrained into each of our minds as we place our development footprints on this earth.

100+ year old tree on Arbor Ave not protected from new construction, Kolb

A white oak reaches from the land toward the sky on Atlanta’s Arbor Avenue. (Photo by Kathryn Kolb)

Through the hiring of more arborists, better early permitting processes, teaching in our schools, community education, and by political activation, we can leave to our children and future generations a better world. We need to be more thoughtful about integrated tree networks, plant life and wildlife.

Greater education of the Atlanta population is greatly required. Once educated we all see better and do better. We must learn to see things differently. Surely Covid has taught us all its time to do things differently. We must move forward to shift to be inharmony with nature not disregarding the wonderful trees blessing.

The coronavirus epidemic worldwide is shouting to all of us ‘I am sick.” We as humans need to change our destructive development habits and respect our natural world so that our children and future generations can continue to breath fresh air. Let’s all learn and each of us in our own way respect, cherish our trees-and bring health to our gift. The “green soul” of Atlanta must be within each of our soul and hearts everyday as Atlanta grows.

I strongly support the citizen’s blended draft of the tree protection ordinance.

Notes to readers: The Atlanta City Council has indefinitely postponed the work session on the tree protection ordinance that had been scheduled for Wednesday.

Oscar Harris founded Turner Associates Architects and Planners in 1981 and has continued creating his own artwork and mentoring the rising generation of leaders.



  1. Noemia araujo May 3, 2021 8:59 am

    ???????????????????? I lova tree so much!???????????? And I fill very bad when people cut them without a very strong reason.Report

  2. Wormser Hats May 3, 2021 3:39 pm

    “I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.’

    Mr. Harris, thank you for speaking and oh so-eloquently for the trees!Report

  3. Steve HagenJ May 4, 2021 10:34 am

    Trees, parks and live theater are the reasons I retired to Atlanta. Should have moved here years ago….Report


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