“Trees Are Our Harbor: Celebrating Atlanta’s Natural Identity” by Joe Thomas


Joe ThomasAtlanta BeltLine visionary Ryan Gravel is fond of saying that while Atlanta lacks the river, coastal, or mountain features of many major American cities, we do have a natural feature that defines us – our trees. My mom tells a story that many of us have heard before. Her best friend from high school, now a resident of the Dallas area (a city often unfairly equated with Atlanta), exclaimed upon flying into Hartsfield-Jackson “it’s so GREEN from above!” As many times as I’ve heard visitors say this, it will never get old. It fills me with pride, not as a tree advocate, but as an Atlantan. It’s the same as when I go to Denver and marvel over the Rockies, or Chicago and have to remind myself that Lake Michigan is a lake, not an ocean.

What we are talking about is the natural identity of our city. Boston has its harbor (or HAH-bah), San Francisco has the bay, and Pittsburgh has three rivers. Atlanta is in a forest. If we begin to think of our canopy in this way, it becomes less a collection of individual trees, and more a unit of civic pride. We truly become the” city in the forest”