Home Authors Posts by Layla Bellows

Layla Bellows


Your guide to soccer leagues in Atlanta

Where to play soccer in Atlanta

Whether you’re looking for serious play, a social club, or the perfect team for your family’s littlest kicker, there’s a soccer league for you. Here, a round-up of programs in Atlanta.

Atlanta Silverbacks Soccer Leagues
Atlanta Silverbacks Park near Spaghetti Junction and Silverbacks Suwanee Soccer Park
Contact: atlantasilverbacks.com, 404-410-7410 or 678-714-7454
Ages: 16 and up, with over-30 teams available
Cost: $57 to $80 per person
Level of play: Seven divisions go from beginner to practically pro; regardless of the level, be prepared for notoriously intense play

Atlanta Sport and Social Club
Locations: Throughout the metro area, but concentrated ITP
Contact: atlantasportandsocialclub.com, or 678-869-4690
Ages: 21 and up
Cost: $50 to $80 per person
Level of play: Offers social/rec and intermediate divisions

Cobb Adult Soccer League
Throughout Cobb County parks and recreation fields
Contact: cobbsoccer.org, or 404-317-9245
Ages: Men 16 and up; women 18 and up; over-30 and over-40 teams available
Cost: $200 per annual season (16 games), but you can join midseason at a pro-rated fee
Level of play: Everything from recreational to intermediate and competitive, and everyone is serious about the sport

Fusion Sport and Social
Contact: fusionsportandsocial.com
Ages: 21 and up
Cost: $55 to $70 per person
Level of play: Recreational

Sons of Pitches FC
Location: ITP, concentrated in neighborhoods south and east of Midtown
Contact: sonsofpitchesfc.com
Ages: Co-ed all ages, with over-30 teams available
Cost: $70 per person or $695 per team for a season, with a $5 fee per pickup session and free family pickup games available throughout the week
Level of play: This group offers everything from social to uber-competitive divisions, and it’s all about the culture of soccer, so expect serious play no matter the level. Sons of Pitches also is the league behind the rooftop soccer tournaments in downtown and Midtown.

Zog Sports
Location: North ITP neighborhoods
Contact: zogsports.com, or 678-974-1772
Ages: 21 and up, with most players between 25 and 40
Cost: $60 to $90 per person
Level of play: Casual and competitive leagues are available, and a portion of each season’s proceeds gets donated to winning teams’ preselected charities

Children and youth
Concorde Fire Soccer Club
Locations: Throughout the metro area
Contact: concordefire.com, or 404-847-0096
Ages: 5 to 18
Cost: Fees vary
Level of play: Beginners through elite

Decatur-Dekalb YMCA Soccer Club
Locations: East Lake, Decatur, Clarkston, Stone Mountain
Contact: ddysoccer.org, 404-377-9622
Ages: 2 through 18
Cost: $65 to $145 for the recreational division (seasonal), $650 to $1,190 for select and academy levels (annual)
Level of play: Beginner, intermediate, and advanced

Happy Feet Soccer Weekend Leagues
Location: Roswell
Contact: happyfeetatlanta.com, or 678-228-8680
Ages: 2 through 6
Cost: $104.50 to $134.50 per person
Level of play: Did we mention they have teams for two-year-olds?

Inter Atlanta F.C. Blues
Locations: Neighborhoods near the downtown area and east toward Decatur
Contact: interatlantafc.com
Ages: 3 through 18
Cost: $120 to $220 per person for recreational, $1,110 to $1,370 for academy and select divisions
Level of play: Beginner, intermediate, and advanced divisions, with a focus on soccer education and community

Soccer in the Streets Community Leagues
Locations: Downtown- and West Atlanta-area neighborhoods, as well as Clarkston and College Park
Contact: soccerstreets.org, or 888-436-5833
Ages: 5 through 18
Cost: Free
Level of play: This group is all about inclusion and building life skills around discipline and teamwork

United Futbol Academy
Locations: North metro area (Forsyth County, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Milton and Norcross), as well as Dawson, Lumpkin, Fannin and Pickens Counties in North Georgia
Contact: unitedfa.org, or 844-468-6832
Ages: 3 through 18, as well as some adult leagues
Cost: From $70 per season for young recreational players up to $1,700 per year for the most advanced levels
Level of play: Varies by chapter, but most have recreational, academy, and select divisions

This article originally appeared in our March 2017 issue.

DiaScan is Atlanta’s biotech firm to watch—and it was started by two local teens

Santhosh Subramanian (left) and Sanjit Kumar

Photograph by Zach Wolfe

In the summer of 2015, Santhosh Subramanian was 17 and about to enter his senior year at Northview High School. He was spending the break not hanging with friends but living in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was doing an internship at the National Cancer Institute’s biostatistics branch.

One day he learned something alarming: CT scans were notoriously unreliable in distinguishing malignant tumors from benign ones. In fact, the rate of false positives—tumors that turned out to be harmless—was a whopping 96.4 percent. So tens of thousands of people every year were going through the stress of additional tests, such as biopsies, and waiting periods while their doctors watched the abnormality to see if it grew.

Around the same time Subramanian learned about this, his high school buddy Sanjit Kumar was learning that his father had a tumor growing on his forehead. The two teens had been fast friends since their AP calculus class their junior year. They lived in neighboring subdivisions, and both had parents working in the software industry. Plus, they shared a tendency to dream up ideas for companies.

The elder Kumar went through three scans before doctors determined the tumor was benign. But the experience left his son taking stock of his life in a way that most of us don’t do until our 40s, if ever. “I didn’t want my dad to end up passing, and if he did, for him to think of what I could have done,” Sanjit Kumar says. “I wanted him to be able to think of what I did do.”

The two friends started out with a simple question: Is there a better way to diagnose cancer using artificial intelligence and predictive analytics? Put another way, would it be possible to design software that could examine and learn from past diagnoses to predict future outcomes? Their answer, one that someday might make these two teenagers millions, is DiaScan, a risk assessment tool that takes CT scans and quantifies tumor characteristics to look for patterns that differentiate between benign and malignant growths.

These scans show a benign tumor (top) and a malignant tumor (bottom). The software can analyze patterns undetectable to the human eye.

Scans courtesy of DiaScan

“Images are an array of numbers,” Subramanian says. “We process the image such that [the software] isolates the tumor and extracts [its] features.” Those features are compared to those of other tumors in its memory banks to see how the numbers match up. The more comparisons, the better it will get at determining the odds of malignancy. “The beauty of machine learning and data science is that as we add more data, we’re able to find beautiful patterns,” Subramanian says.

While the technology is still under wraps until its planned release later this year, Subramanian and Kumar liken it to the facial recognition tools used by Instagram and Facebook. “The stuff we’re doing isn’t complicated,” Kumar says. “But bringing the technology to healthcare is what makes us special.” He points out a paradox of the medical industry. “When you think about it, there’s a huge disconnect between medicine and technology.” Especially where it comes to actually putting big data to use. Social media companies are on top of it. But hospitals? Not so much.

An early version of their software earned them a ticket to a local pitch-off competition held by startup and tech news site TechCrunch, where they won third place and the audience choice award. They also met Jim Schwoebel, cofounder of local startup accelerator CyberLaunch, which invested $20,000 of pre-seed funding in the technology. At CyberLaunch they also met Sam Franklin, vice president of data science at marketing agency 360i, who serves as CyberLaunch’s mentor in data science. “I felt in my gut that these were guys I needed to work with because the problem they were taking on was so impactful,” he says. “I lost my father very early in my life to brain cancer. Most of my family members who have passed away have passed away due to cancer, so it’s something that tugs at me personally.” While the software right now is designed to help detect lung cancer, he sees its long-term potential as much bigger. “This could be a generalized tool in our battle against cancer both here in the States and—ideally—globally.”

“In the end,” Kumar says, “it’s just applying machine learning and computer vision to the medical industry. It doesn’t necessarily have to be cancer. It could be any disease a radiologist would [use images to diagnose].”

Currently the pair are using the CyberLaunch funds to develop a pilot version of their software while they scout out $250,000 in seed funding for additional product development. They’ve also begun talks with CT scanner manufacturers, medical software companies, data organizations, and hospitals for licensing agree­ments, pilot studies, and partnerships.

In the meantime, they’re off to separate colleges—Subramanian to Berkeley, where he’s majoring in computer science, and Kumar to Georgia Tech, where he’s majoring in computer engineering. Life in the on-campus dorm sometimes brings into focus just how different Kumar’s priority list is from those of his peers.
“Sometimes I’ll see my friends and think, ‘Man, I just want to be 18,’” he says. “Other times I wish I was in my 20s so I could be taken more seriously.”

Stargazing in Atlanta: Your guide to the summer sky

Stargazing illustration
Illustration by Niki Fisher

Gaze with your friends
Find an open field, set up away from skyscrapers, and get to gazing.

Candler Park at the corner of McLendon Avenue and Candler Park Drive
Downside: Nearby street lights and Little Five Points brighten things a bit. Upside: Street parking makes it a cinch to get in and out by closing time.

The Boating Dock at Stone Mountain Park
Most of the park is open until midnight, making it great for gazing. Try the public boat ramp on Stone Mountain Lake.

Lake Brantley at Hard Labor Creek State Park
About an hour east of Atlanta, this park gets a nod from astronomers because it’s far enough from city lights. The park is open until 10 p.m. for day visitors, but it’s just $26 to $32 to camp. When darkness falls, head to Lake Brantley near the center of the park, where a small field is open for late-night viewing.

Gaze with an expert
Nothing beats an observatory if you want to get up close and personal with a celestial body.

Tellus Science Museum
Get a great view of our solar system through the 20-inch telescope that’s open during special events at this Cartersville museum.

Fernbank Science Center
This intown observatory boasts a 36-inch telescope, the largest available to the public in the Southeast. Open 9 to 10:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays.

Hard Labor Creek Observatory
Run by Georgia State University, this observatory is open to the public on the second Saturday of every month through October. Observations start 30 minutes after sunset.

Look up—way up
“Summer is known as Milky Way season,” says Daniel Herron, observing chairman of the Atlanta Astronomy Club. Keep your eyes out for:


Look about one-third to halfway up from the southern horizon to find this teapot-shaped constellation.

Summer triangle
The Summer Triangle

This bright trio of stars—Vega, Deneb, and Altair—is almost straight above our heads during the summer months.

Mars and Venus
Mars and Saturn

These ultrabright beauties are visible throughout the summer.

Perseid Meteor Shower
Perseid Meteor Shower

The only drawback to this annual nighttime attraction, taking place roughly between August 10 and 14, is that it happens after 2 a.m. and before dawn.

Constellations: iStockphoto.com

This article originally appeared in our June 2016 issue.

23 places you could soon call home in Midtown

Cranes will continue to dominate Midtown’s skyline for the next few years. Currently, 16 projects are under construction—the most the neighborhood has ever seen at once—with another 21 in the planning phase. That could mean more than 2 million square feet of office space, 400,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space, and 8,600 new residential units added by the end of this decade. And it’s all happening in about one square mile. Here, a few places you could soon call home.

693 Peachtree Street693 Peachtree Street
Residential units: 147
Floors: 24
Situated on just a third of an acre, the building’s recessed terraces create a
cantilevered look.

Hanover MidtownHanover Midtown
Peachtree at Seventh Street
Residential units: 350
Floors: 28
AMLI Arts CenterAMLI Arts Center
1240 West Peachtree Street
Residential units: 350
Floors: 25
Apartment behemoth AMLI continues its march intown with this tower.

Yoo on the ParkYoo on the Park
207 13th Street
Residential units: 245
Floors: 25

Spring MidtownSpring Midtown
22 14th Street
Residential units: 390
Floors: 38
The official name may be Spring Midtown, but people may better know it as “the Whole Foods building.”

Hanover West PeachtreeHanover West Peachtree
1010 West Peachtree Street
Residential units: 332
Floors: 6

782 Peachtree Street782 Peachtree Street
Residential units: 290
Floors: 10

Atlantic HouseAtlantic House
1163 West Peachtree Street
Residential units: 407
Floors: 32

Modera MidtownModera Midtown
90 Peachtree Place
Residential units: 435
Floors: 29

12th and Midtown12th & Midtown
60 11th Street
Residential units: 320
Floors: 20

208 12th Street208 12th Street
Residential units: 10
Floors: 4

One Museum PlaceOne Museum Place
1301 Peachtree Street
Residential units: 44
Floors: 5

What’s going up

Seventh Midtown
867 Peachtree Street
Residential units: 20
Floors: 9
If you’re looking to buy, this is currently the only mixed-use condo building entering the market.

Azure on the Park
1020 Piedmont Avenue
Residential units: 329
Floors: 25

Alta Midtown
33 Peachtree Place
Residential units: 343
Floors: 19

Broadstone Terraces
811 Juniper Street
Residential units: 218
Floors: 8

Post Midtown Millennium
11th Street at Peachtree Walk
Residential units: 356
Floors: 25

Alta at the Park
12th Street near Piedmont Avenue
Residential units: 198
Floors: 19

880 West Peachtree Street
Residential units: 356
Floors: 22

Peachtree at 17th
Residential units: 206
Floors: 56

1270 Spring Street
Residential units: 256
Floors: TBD

1400 West Peachtree
Residential units: 356
Floors: TBD

Juniper at Fifth Street
Residential units: 158
Floors: 6

Back to Real Estate 2016

This article originally appeared in our March 2016 issue.

Clark Howard and Atlanta Habitat for Humanity

Clark Howard and Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity building in Venetian Hills

Photograph by Jeani El Baum/Atlanta Habitat for Humanity

Venetian Hills lies on the city’s west side, 10 minutes south of downtown. In 2013 Atlanta Habitat for Humanity announced it would create a 13-home cul-de-sac there on a tract of foreclosed land that had been prepped for home construction that never came.

The development, completed in April, is named Clark Howard Lane, in honor of the consumer guru and his wife, Lane, who have supported Habitat for two decades. Howard directs $80,000 into Habitat every year and leads home builds between January and March—the period when finding volunteers is most challenging.

Still, Howard was neither expecting nor interested in such splashy recognition. “I was embarrassed and excited,” he says. “I was raised to believe you do charitable work, and you do it anonymously. If my father were still alive, he’d be horrified, but at the same time, it’s really cool to drive up and see your name on the street.” And the name is by no means honorary: Howard had a hand in building nine homes in the development.

Howard’s initial involvement in Habitat in 1996 was born out of remembrance for his father, who grew up during the Great Depression and whose parents were evicted twice. And the famous penny-pincher’s mission intersects nicely with that of the organization. For instance, like all Atlanta Habitat houses, the homes along Clark Howard Lane boast low-flow faucets, double-paned windows, high-performance insulation, and energy-efficient appliances—installed because they make good financial sense.

“I think Habitat for Humanity was at the forefront of green building simply because of their vision of affordable housing,” says Jim Blackstone, Atlanta Habitat’s director of construction. After all, if a building is so leaky that it sends utility bills soaring, well, it’s not exactly in keeping with that mission. An early-2000s partnership with Southface led to such well-constructed homes that today’s Habitat homeowners can expect to see monthly power bills under $150.

Habitat expects its homeowners to take 12 classes to help them bone up on the financial and physical sides of homeownership. Most of the financial workshops (think mortgage basics, Credit 101, budgeting) are required; DIY and maintenance classes (plumbing, pest control, tree care) are electives. It elevates the program from a charitable organization to a nonprofit helping homeowners sustain themselves.

“I love the financial education component,” Howard says. “If you help somebody handle their money better, then you help in so many places in their lives.”

Cast your vote for Groundbreaker of the Year

Back to Groundbreakers

This article originally appeared in our September 2015 issue.


Converting rights-of-way into friendly paths is catching on.

Photograph by John E. McDonald

Like the Atlanta BeltLine, Buckhead’s PATH400 is converting otherwise unused stretches of land into publicly accessible greenspace—but that’s where the similarities end. While the 22-mile BeltLine traces old railroad beds, PATH400 takes advantage of undeveloped Georgia Department of Transportation rights-of-way that had come to feel like an extension of residents’ backyards.

So when Livable Buckhead, PATH400’s master developer, announced plans to covert the unused property into parkland, some residents felt like the trail was an intrusion into their space rather than a boon to a community without enough parks. (A 2009 study showed Buckhead has just 2.14 acres of park space per 1,000 residents, a fraction of the citywide average in Atlanta, which already is below its national peers.) Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead, made the project her baby. For it to thrive, she knew residents had to support the plan as enthusiastically as its other stakeholders (which include GDOT and the Buckhead Community Improvement District). She and project designer Carlos Perez headed into Neighborhood Planning Units as well as homeowners’ kitchens and backyards. The goal: find mutually beneficial design solutions—like planting trees on the trail to serve as a screen between people’s windows and the newly trafficked space.

PATH400’s use of rights-of-way has caught on. Sandy Springs and Dunwoody have similar developments in the works, and Brookhaven expects to draw from the model as it develops trails along the North Fork of Peachtree Creek.

Cast your vote for Groundbreaker of the Year

Back to Groundbreakers

This article originally appeared in our September 2015 issue.

It takes a forest: How intown development puts Atlanta’s tree canopy at risk

Photograph by Aerial Innovations of GA

Any flight into Hartsfield-Jackson reminds you why Atlanta is called the city in a forest. As you descend, it’s hard to tell where the city begins and ends, save for clusters of skyscrapers along Peachtree that poke above the verdant canopy.

Within the 133 square miles that constitute the city proper, this is no trick of the eye. The tree canopy covers almost half of the city—47.9 percent to be precise—according to an assessment released in 2014 by the Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission and Georgia Tech. Using satellite imagery to determine coverage down to the neighborhood level, the researchers confirmed that Atlanta has the country’s densest urban tree canopy. Without an oceanfront or mountain chain or broad river flowing through downtown, Atlanta’s most distinctive natural feature is its trees.

Despite stringent ordinances aimed at protecting those trees, our canopy faces a paradoxical new threat: renewed interest in urban living. Population growth within the city and a surge in denser development may represent eco-friendly shifts from Atlanta’s car-centric sprawl, but those trends are paired with infill development that puts trees—especially older, taller “overstory” trees that form the canopy—at risk and reduces space to plant replacements.

Photo illustration by Caroline C. Kilgore

For most of us, the term “tree loss” conjures images of clear-cutting to make way for subdivisions or highways—the suburban and exurban development of the 1990s and early 2000s. Such large-scale removal is in sharp contrast to strict tree regulations updated in the City of Atlanta and close-in communities like Decatur during the same era. After a 1990s tightening of rules on tree removal, in the 2000s the City of Atlanta broadened its ordinance to prioritize protecting existing healthy trees. The law regulates tree removal on private property, which can vex landowners—you need a permit to take out a healthy tree as small as six inches in diameter. But the ordinance reflects a reality: More than three-quarters of the city’s tree canopy exists in residential areas, while parks and public green-space occupy only 6 percent of city land. “When we say we want to remove trees and plant ‘elsewhere,’ there’s a limited amount of space ‘elsewhere,’” says Kathryn Evans, an analyst with the Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission.

Many intown backyards are part of a once-connected canopy that dates back more than 150 years. Kathryn Kolb, codirector of EcoAddendum, an organization dedicated to urban forest restoration and education, says older parts of Atlanta were spared the rampant timbering that cleared much of Georgia in the late 1800s. “The greater metro area has wonderful pockets of forest everywhere; there is a surprise in every neighborhood,” says Kolb. A tulip poplar in Brookhaven, for instance, dates to before the Revolutionary War. A 91-foot-tall white oak towers over a private residence near Grant Park. Pint-sized Lullwater Conservation Garden in Druid Hills is home to a 50-foot-tall yellowwood (a rare native tree) and a 121-foot-tall American beech, both on Trees Atlanta’s Champion Trees list, which identifies standout examples of each species inside the Perimeter. The largest tree in Atlanta—a 102-foot-tall cherrybark oak measuring 23 feet around—is just behind Turner Field at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a home for incurable cancer patients.

Historically, there was room on residential lots for the tree canopy to flourish. Quaint cottages and bungalows in neighborhoods like Candler Park and Oakhurst don’t occupy the maximum square footage on their lots. With plenty of root space, shade trees like native white oaks can grow to diameters over 25 inches, rise more than 60 feet above the soil, and spread their branches wide, providing more than 1,600 square feet of canopy. Removing a large tree to increase the footprint of a house or dig a basement doesn’t just reduce the tree canopy in the short term; the increased impervious surface of an expanded foundation makes it next to impossible for a replacement tree to grow to maturity.

Removing a single tree creates a ripple effect. Over more than a century, Atlanta’s tree roots formed a network that exchanges nutrients and helps all trees stand tall. “It takes a forest to raise a tree,” Kolb says. Trees function as a community: Boundary trees at a property’s edge can handle wind and other elements, protecting their interior counterparts, which tend to be the senior citizens. When a lot is graded for development, the senior trees—the deep-rooted ones impossible to replace—are usually first to go. Greg Levine, coexecutive director of Trees Atlanta, says bulldozing makes it harder for any plant life to thrive. Grading a lot down to red clay scrapes out topsoil rich with plants, insects, and worms that help keep trees healthy.

But with property values surging upward, developers question whether they can afford to preserve trees. Nabil Hammam has developed properties in historic intown areas for the past 20 years and also chairs NPU E, which includes Ansley Park, Atlantic Station, and Sherwood Forest—his own neighborhood. This puts Hammam on both sides of the issue, and he says it can be a challenge to balance the economics of development and the desires of preservation- and conservation-minded residents. People will pay for bigger homes with basements. A new house can sell for $1.4 million in high-demand areas like Virginia-Highland or Candler Park, and developers are willing to pay $400,000 to $500,000 for properties destined to become teardowns. In Ansley Park, where new homes can go for as much as $2.5 million, a teardown property can run $1 million.

In light of these economics, the City of Atlanta “recompense” program, which lets builders pay for the privilege of removing older trees, is a pittance. To remove an oak with a 25-inch trunk, a developer would pay just $850—$100 per tree and $30 per inch of diameter. That money goes into the city’s Tree Trust Fund, which is used for new planting and to maintain the city’s forest. The fund is administered by the city’s parks and community development departments, which also oversee planting on public right-of-ways. On average, the city receives $1.9 million annually in tree removal recompense.

When intown sales soar, so does the willingness to build on lots riddled with culverts, gullies, and steep grades. Long considered “unbuildable,” such parcels support old-growth trees and dense undergrowth. “As land becomes more valuable, there becomes much more incentive to develop difficult-to-develop land,” Evans says. Prime examples occur along streams on the east side of the city. In Lake Claire, a tract of land held a handful of homes whose wooded backyards sloped toward a creek. As prices rose, a developer bought up the lots to create a mini-subdivision.

This leads to cascading issues: how to balance old growth, new growth, and residents surging intown. “We can’t plant our way into full replacement,” Evans says. “We have to preserve existing trees because we don’t have enough spaces to plant a replacement for every tree we’re going to take down. We have to be smart about how we develop with trees.”

Tree ordinancesA Tangle of Ordinances
Almost every metro city and county has a tree ordinance. But city rules trump county, and variations are endless.
Consider: Within Fulton County, Atlanta’s ordinance applies to healthy hardwoods six inches in diameter or greater and pines 12 inches and up, while Sandy Springs’ covers hardwoods and pines 18 inches or greater. Alpharetta bases removal permits on property density requirements, and charges fines for removing specimen trees—24-inch oaks and elms. In DeKalb County, a tree needs to be 30 inches to earn specimen status.

54 acres a day?
Assessing regional tree coverage is challenging. The best data points come out of a 2004 study conducted by Liz Kramer, director of UGA’s Natural Resources Spatial Analysis Laboratory. Her analysis of the 16-county Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District revealed that the area lost an average of 54 acres of canopy a day between 1991 and 2001. A later county-by-county comparison revealed that Gwinnett was particularly hard hit. In 1991, 52 percent of the county was covered with tree canopy; by 2005 that had dropped to 37 percent.

Canopy loss isn’t the same as tree loss; it measures “overstory” shade trees that could hide scores of smaller trees—or none at all. But Kramer’s work does provide an idea of what’s going on at the macro level. In a 2008 analysis, she found that canopy loss stabilized at 50 acres a day between 2001 and 2005 as expansion slowed from its peak in the previous decade. “The period of the 1990s was unparalleled for metro Atlanta for sprawl,” notes Kramer.

How Atlanta’s tree coverage compares with other cities:

  • 48% Atlanta
  • 42% Pittsburgh
  • 31% Minneapolis
  • 23% Detroit

Anatomy of a Tree
What every tree does for us (and how we can help in return)

Illustration by Denis Carrier

Of the many creatures in our urban ecosystem, your best friend is the backyard bird. Red-tailed hawks and Eastern screech owls control rats and mice, while little chickadees eat about 1,000 flying insects a day.

Pruning early in a tree’s life is beneficial because it sets the groundwork for withstanding extreme conditions later.

Nature’s HVAC 
According to Georgia Power, well-placed shade trees can reduce air-conditioning needs by up to 30 percent. Deciduous trees can be extra helpful; when they lose leaves in winter, the increased sunlight on your home slashes heating costs. Planted near parking lots and public spaces, trees reduce smog-producing “heat islands.”

High rise 
Overstory trees, such as oak or hickory, can reach 60 feet and create canopies of 1,600 square feet. Understory trees, such as dogwoods and redbuds, can reach 30 feet and provide 400 square feet of canopy.

Climbing vines choke trees. Kudzu isn’t the only culprit; remove invasive species like English ivy, Chinese wisteria, and honeysuckle. Spot a crack? Call an arborist.

Air filters 
During photosynthesis, trees remove smog-causing air pollutants; 100 trees eliminate roughly 53 tons of carbon dioxide from the air per year. By the time it’s 10, a tree can absorb 48 pounds per year.

If a tree loses more than 40 percent of its canopy in a year, or if you spot many bare limbs, call a certified arborist.

Community Benefits
A 2006 to 2007 study in Portland showed that homes near “street trees” sold for about $7,130 more—and 1.7 days faster—than those without nearby trees. A 2002 UGA study found homes in Fulton County areas with protections for mature trees sold for some $105,000 more than those in areas where developers replaced mature trees with smaller ones.

In Baltimore, a 10 percent increase in canopy correlated with a 12 percent decrease in crime. Chicago residents of public housing with nearby trees experienced 48 percent fewer property crimes and 56 percent fewer violent crimes than those in buildings with no exterior vegetation.

Flood Warning 
One hundred mature trees catch about 139,000 gallons of rainwater per year. As natural landscapes are replaced by pavement and buildings—which can’t absorb rainfall—more water rushes to streams, carrying pollutants such as motor oil and pesticides. In urban areas with 75 to 100 percent impervious cover, more than half of dirty stormwater runoff reaches streams; in areas with natural ground cover, only a 10th does. In addition to keeping streams clean, trees reduce street flooding.

To keep a tree healthy, pay attention to its critical root zone—a one-foot radius for every inch of the tree’s diameter. Make sure utility repairs are performed under roots —not through them—and keep construction machinery off the zone. Don’t presume roots are headed into the base of the house; many older Southern homes are built on piers, so tree roots affect facing—which covers a crawl space—not foundation.

This article originally appeared in our July 2015 issue.

Atlanta Park Champion: Kit Sutherland

Atlanta Park Champion
Photograph by Jenni Girtman

In 2001 Kit Sutherland and her husband bought a condo on Glen Iris Drive, then a quiet street known for, well, not much. Today it’s at the epicenter of three projects that have permanently changed the entire city: the Atlanta BeltLine, Historic Fourth Ward Park, and Ponce City Market.

From her roof, Sutherland, 55, can see it all, and it’s hard to find a development she hasn’t had a hand in. As a Neighborhood Planning Unit secretary from 2005 to 2010, she was deeply involved with the Old Fourth Ward’s Master Plan and the projects that changed its face—especially Historic Fourth Ward Park, whose conservancy board she joined in 2009. Over three years, Sutherland sat on the park’s design review committee, assisted during the design and planning period, and recruited more board members. In 2011 she helped create the conservancy’s strategic long-term plan, after taking a post as president of the Fourth Ward Alliance Neighborhood Association in 2010.

“[Historic Fourth Ward] Park is an amazing example of municipal money doing what it is supposed to do, which is to improve infrastructure but also serve the community,” she says. “I remember voting for [the splash pad], but it wasn’t until I saw the children playing that I thought, ‘This is how parks are supposed to work.’”

Back to Atlanta Parks Guide

This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.

Atlanta Park Champion: Ray Mock

Ray MockAs director of operations for Chastain Park’s conservancy, Ray Mock, 63, is technically responsible for maintaining about 60 acres of the park. But that doesn’t stop the third-generation Atlantan from traversing the full 268-acre expanse in his golf cart, checking up on the ballfields, horse park, and other facilities. And he doesn’t hesitate to lend more than an ear. “Those 273 trees that have been planted in the past three years didn’t come from the tree fairy,” he says. “We had volunteers working for weeks.”

Volunteers are the lifeblood of Chastain, which receives about 12,000 hours of service each year, more than any other city park. Mock oversees them all, including a group of juvenile offenders fulfilling court-ordered community service, whom he embraces with open arms and the 20/20 hindsight of a reformed delinquent. “I was a hell-raiser, too,” he says. “I just didn’t get caught.”

Back to Atlanta Parks Guide

 This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.

Atlanta Park Champion: Melanie Furr

Melanie FurrFive years ago, when Melanie Furr found a neighbor’s cat toying with a chipmunk, she rescued the injured creature and brought it to the Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort. Afterward Furr, 43, began volunteering there and discovered she had an affinity for birds. In 2012 she went on her first Atlanta Audubon Society bird walk.

“I had no idea you could go out on Saturday morning and see 42 different songbirds,” she says. Furr became hooked on the walks and eventually began leading her own. Today, as the Audubon Society’s educational manager, she oversees 25 volunteer guides for the free tours, many of which take place in Piedmont Park, Candler Park, and along the Atlanta BeltLine.

Regular sightings include bright yellow American goldfinches and the blue back and red belly of the Eastern bluebird. “The birds are eye-catching, but many people don’t realize they’re here because of our dense tree canopy,” Furr says. “But once someone points them out, you start to notice them hiding in plain sight.”

Back to Atlanta Parks Guide

This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.

Follow Us