Nature for All – Atlanta
By Adriana Garcia, Nature Accessibility Advocate
Over the next 20 years, Atlanta faces significant challenges: a growing population, tensions between new development and the need to preserve trees and urban greenspaces, and climate change. As the city grows denser, articulating and implementing a strong city planning framework that prioritizes urban ecology (a.k.a. nature) is critical to Atlanta’s future livability.
Research suggesting that time spent in nature improves health continues to grow. As such, 2020 is the moment to rally behind a vision that champions access to nature for all Atlantans.
In 2017, the Atlanta City Design project was released to guide the city’s growth and development, and influence investment and policy decisions. Within the Atlanta City Design is the formation of an Urban Ecology Framework (UEF), which includes a new Tree Protection Ordinance (TPO). These planning efforts are still underway. As these plans are finalized, adopted, and later brought to fruition, we must aspire to live by the values put forth by Atlanta City Design—which include Equity, Access, and Nature—and strive for a future Atlanta where everyone has access to nature.
With support from the Turner Foundation, and in partnership with Trees Atlanta and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, I recently joined Park Pride as the Nature Accessibility Advocate. In this role, I will champion an initiative called Nature for All – Atlanta. Through education, empowerment, and advocacy, this initiative will rally Atlantans around the Urban Ecology Framework (and its values of Equity, Access, and Nature) to advance implementation strategies that result in more equitable access to nature for residents across the city.
Implementing such strategies will require a city-wide outpouring of support from residents to influence societal norms and to build political will. While the idea of connecting all Atlantans to nature seems like something everyone can get behind, there are several barriers to overcome, especially for individuals in communities that have been historically marginalized.
One of the barriers is simply a lack of awareness. There are people who don’t know where available greenspaces are located and what those spaces offer. Another is not feeling comfortable or welcome in parks or natural spaces – feelings caused by being harassed by police or other residents for the color of their skin, or historical trauma. Additionally, some people don’t have the luxury and time to prioritize nature.
My motto to begin to address these barriers and gain support behind the Nature for All initiative is ‘meet folks where they’re at’. That means actively listening. That means working directly with community leaders and building meaningful and authentic relationships. That means partnering to create events that are culturally relevant to diverse communities and spreading the message that nature is for everyone.
Throughout 2020, I will organize a series of outings and events to educate and empower a new cohort of nature advocates in Atlanta. The first outing will be a bird walk with Atlanta Audubon’s Jason Ward on Saturday, January 25th at Cascade Springs Nature Preserve. Jason is a birder, social activist, and host of the Topic show ‘Birds of North America.’ This bird walk will be a slow, easy walk through the wooded trails and will offer a great introduction for beginner birders. Jason will discuss his journey to birding and share how birding, like nature, really is for all! There will also be a storytelling component where three guest speakers will share their personal stories involving nature. Registration will open soon for this free outing.
Consider this column a call to action. 2020 must be our year in Atlanta to advance a vision where all residents have access to nature. The future livability of our city and the quality of life that residents enjoy depend on action.
Will you raise your voice for equitable access to nature for all Atlantans? If so, please share this column with your friends and across your social networks and tag #NatureforAllATL. Help us grow the network. Thank you!
In addition to her role as Nature Accessibility Advocate, Adriana is also the co-founder of a grassroots organization called Latinxhikers that works to engage and connect the Latinx community to the outdoors.