Our trees deserve better, city planners and developers all too willing to cut them down

Hardly a sadder sight exists than the stump of a tree that has just been cut down.

Unfortunately in Atlanta, that’s a sight that we’ve seen over and over again.

Just this week, several trees were cut down along Marietta Street downtown right near Five Points.

Atlanta native Bill Todd sent me an email titled: “Outrage.” “They are cutting down healthy trees on Marietta Street. Oaks!”

A recently cut down tree along Marietta Street diagonally across from CNN Center

Immediately I started asking around. How could the city have allowed trees to be cut down in the public right of way?

The definitive answer came back from Jennifer Ball, vice president of planning for Central Atlanta Progress.

“The median is being enhanced and the trees replaced as part of the Marietta Street – Centennial Olympic Park Drive Streetscape project,” Ball wrote in an email. “The tree removal plan was approved by the Parks Department arborish and posted for public notice according to the city ordinance.”

The stump of a former tree along Marietta Street near Five Points

Then she added: “The existing trees at these locations that were approved for removal were not incredibly healthy — many suffered from ‘over crowding’ or being planted too closely together while others had exposed root balls that caused them to lean due to the windy conditions of the corridor. The replacement trees will be planted and mainted properly for their long term sustainability.”

While I support streetscape improvements downtown and all over town, for the life of me I can’t understand why landscape architects and urban planners are so willing to sacrifice trees for their own design.

Another downed tree along Marietta Street at Five Points

In my mind, planners and contractors should treat trees the way that highway engineers approach cemeteries — with avoidance.

All too often, people justify cutting down mature trees by saying they’ll plant new ones. But it takes years, if not decades, for trees to grow big enough to create a green canopy to provide shade on our city streets.

The current renovation of Ansley Mall is case in point. Dozens of trees lining the strip shopping center were cut down so an ornamental copper roof could be installed. So the trees had to be cut down for a “fancy” renovation? But architects, planners and developers should know that there’s nothing as ornamental as a tree.

When trees were cut down this week along Marietta Street, it made me grieve over the loss of the beautiful pocket park that used to exist next to the former Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta along Spring Street. The State Bar of Georgia successfully won a legal fight to cut down nine 50-year-old oaks that served as a green oasis in downtown. And for what purpose? A garage.

Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson sent me an email in response to my “how could they” inquiry. “I promise you it will work out well,” he wrote about downtown’s latest loss of trees.

But then, this weekend I was riding my bicycle around Piedmont Park and noticed that at least 10 trees — half of them with magnificently large stumps — had been cut.

My dog Bella sniffs around a super-large stump in Piedmont Park near the Piedmont Driving Club. I sure hope it wasn't a Ginko tree.

Whenever I see the stumps surrounded by fresh saw dust, my heart literally sinks to my stomach. That activist blood in my veins starts boiling, and then I start feeling guilty that somehow I wasn’t there to save the trees from being cut down.

Evidence of another downed tree in Piedmont Park

Given that Arborguard Tree Specialists is working with the Piedmont Park Conservancy, I’m hoping there’s a darn good reason that those trees have been cut down.

And another tree cut down in Piedmont Park

And yet, looking at the amazingly large stumps that showed little decay (in other words, they did not look as though they were dying), it made me wonder. How have we let our trees become so expendible.

And another cut down tree in Piedmont Park

As I was riding around the park and later walking with my dogs, the words of an old Chinese proverb kept going round and round in my head.

When I saw this former tree near the children's playground at Piedmont Park, I had had enough.

“One generation plants the trees in whose shade another generation rests.”

But what if we cut down those trees before they are enjoyed by our children and grandchildren?

Not only do we end up denying ourselves of the majestic beauty that those trees once gave us. But for every tree that we cut down, they won’t be there to provide shade for our future generations.

And that’s a losing proposition for all of us.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

4 replies
  1. Mike says:

    Marietta Street Downtown currently looks like a dump. The trees in the median weren’t “pretty”. I’m glad they are re-building the streetscape over there, even if it means cutting down older trees.

    Another thing I’ve noticed, at least in the Midtown streetscape projects, is the trees in the sidewalk actually take up sidewalk space. The sidewalks aren’t any wider because of the trees and are basically the same size as a suburban sidewalk. It’s kind of annoying and they aren’t being built with heavy pedestrian traffic in mind.Report

    Reply
  2. tomitron says:

    I appreciate the point you’re making, but i’m pretty sure the stumps in Piedmont Park, except maybe the first one, were trees that died naturally —Report

    Reply
  3. Rebecca says:

    Let us know what you hear back about the Piedmont Park trees! That is very disturbing. Didn’t the city fire its head arborist last year? Makes you wonder…Report

    Reply

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