Protecting Atlanta’s Tree Canopy is the Root of Creating a Healthier CityDeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, Leadership DeKalb's Sara Fountain and Richard Stogner; photo by David Fisher
Ayanna Williams, Healthy Cities Director, The Nature Conservancy
Consider for a moment the vast number of trees in Atlanta. Nearly 48 percent of Atlanta’s urban areas are covered by the tree canopy, according to a 2014 study by the City of Atlanta Department of Planning and Community Development Arborist Division. These urban trees support the city in several ways, including:
- providing shade which lowers surface and air temperature to combat the “heat island” effect common in built-out urban centers with lots of paved surfaces
- cooling well-shaded buildings which can result in reduced air conditioning use
- reducing flooding and
- preventing soil erosion that can ultimately make land unable to support the growth and health of vegetation
In short, we need trees. From Buckhead to Thomasville Heights, Atlanta’s mature, old growth trees work for us and in turn, we must protect them and help more trees flourish. The City of Atlanta’s tree protection ordinance is an important tool in this effort. As a member of the Atlanta Canopy Alliance, The Nature Conservancy supports the city’s review and update process that is currently underway. We also join concerned residents and community organizers in calling for transparency and ample public input into the process.
To be clear—even the most well-thought-out tree protection ordinance will fail if it is not enforced. Ordinance rules must be consistently applied to both public and private landowners. Atlanta’s trees are not only in parks and forests but also in communities, on homeowner’s lawns, alongside apartment buildings and bordering commercial buildings. Landowners must understand the economic and environmental importance of the ordinance, and the price of infractions must be significantly more than a financial nuisance.
The Atlanta Canopy Alliance advocates for an innovative tree ordinance that will stand the test of time, and we encourage all Atlanta residents to join us. Member organizations will be hosting public meetings across the city in the coming months, where residents will be educated about the tree protection ordinance and simple steps they can take to protect the trees in their community. Sign the online pledge to protect our “City in the Forest” to join the invitation list for meetings near you at https://treesatlanta.org/learn/atlanta-canopy-alliance-pledge/.