Environmental leaders convene at Atlanta forum on green space

It is hoped every resident of Atlanta will live within a half-mile walking distance to a public park by 2020, an Atlanta official said Thursday evening at a forum on the benefits of green space in urban environments.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to get healthy in a fun way that is aesthetically pleasing,” Denise Quarles, director of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability, said of green projects such as the Atlanta Beltline.

Quarles was among a handful of land use and environmental experts who spoke at the forum sponsored by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and PNC Bank.

Joining Quarles was Marty Allen, city manager for Suwanee; Lisa Gordon, chief operating officer and interim director of the Atlanta Beltline; and Jeannette Yen, director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design.

Quarles said putting public funds and private investments into projects such as the Beltline yields benefits beyond fitness: “When you increase the amount of green space, we have seen an increase in property values.”

The city’s parks goal is bolstered by the Atlanta Beltline project, which aims to convert a 22-mile loop of blighted land into a necklace of trails, parks, transit and mixed-use development.

“I think we are connecting back our communities that have been disconnected,” Gordon said, noting the Beltline will ultimately link 45 neighborhoods with trails and paths. “It’s important to quality of life, as well as allowing you to embrace your neighborhood and community beyond your immediate surrounding.”

Gordon also said Beltline officials are careful to invest resources in underserved neighborhoods across the region.

“You have to make sure you are investing in the whole city,” she said. “If you invest around the city, you will see economic development around the city and the entire city will be lifted up.”

And Allen, noting Suwanee aims to have 25 percent of its land devoted to green space, said: “You have to make sure you are designing your community as equally and equitably as you can.”

Yen called for environmental leaders to develop guidance to communities on how to improve their green space.

“There’s a whole continuum of different types of green space, and I think it would be really cool if we could provide some advice on how to make them greener.”

Quarles noted that Atlanta is in the top 10 of U.S. cities with “food deserts,” or lack of access to fresh foods. And so city officials also aim to have 75 percent of residents within 10 minutes of fresh, locally grown food by 2020.

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