City of Atlanta Addressing Stormwater Runoff, Tree Ordinance on Path to ‘Resilience’
ATLANTA — While speaking at the Oct. 5 luncheon hosted by the Atlanta chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW Atlanta), Emory University law professor Mindy Goldstein addressed some of the environmental issues facing Atlanta, namely the City of Atlanta Tree Ordinance and stormwater runoff in the metro area.
“Stormwater runoff is a huge problem in Atlanta,” says Goldstein, who serves as director of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law. The clinic provides 4,000 hours of pro bono environmental legal work per year.
“When it rains, surging stormwater can overflood our sewer systems and flood properties, which drastically decreases property values in certain neighborhoods,” says Goldstein.
Atlanta is one of the 100 cities around the world participating in 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), a global initiative to provide governance and operational infrastructure to 100 cities that prove they are working to improve conditions for their citizens. The campaign was launched in 2013 by The Rockefeller Foundation and after three rounds of applications, the final 100 cities were chosen in May 2016.
Member cities within 100RC are working now to become more “resilient” by addressing both the city’s shocks, or one-time events like floods and earthquakes, and its stresses, challenges that weaken a city fabric on a daily or cyclical basis such as high unemployment or violence. Part of the support includes appointing a chief resiliency officer, and in late 2016 the City of Atlanta promoted Stephanie Stuckey to the post.
Goldstein, who represents the City of Atlanta in a lot of its resiliency planning and works closely with Stuckey, says 100RC identified Atlanta’s stresses as an aging infrastructure, drought, economic inequality and rainfall flooding. Two of the four stresses are environmental in nature, and Goldstein says the city has had some successful projects to address those issues.
The Atlanta BeltLine, the high-profile, 22-mile trail around the city, has been a success on many fronts, including helping deterring stormwater runoff with a large retention pond at Old Fourth Ward Park.
“[The retention pond] has already saved the city $15 million in having to not deal with sewer overflows and spurred more than $500 million in redevelopment in its surrounding areas,” says Goldstein. “We’re trying something similar on the west side of the BeltLine.”
One of the issues caused by the BeltLine has been the rapid rise in property values, which has displaced some of the local population. Goldstein says on average property values along the Eastside Trail have jumped up 59 percent in one year.
In 2016, two prominent board members of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, Nathaniel Smith and Ryan Gravel, who originally conceived the BeltLine, stepped down in protest of the lack of affordable housing underway.
In late August, Paul Morris resigned from his post as CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine because his work providing affordable housing was viewed as “anemic,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“It’s a problem for the city’s resiliency plan,” says Goldstein. “When you look at the BeltLine’s charter, they had a goal in mind for affordable housing — 5,600 affordable homes by 2030, and what we’ve seen is that is not happening.”
In addition to other stormwater success stories, such as the $16 million, six-mile permeable paver system in Atlanta’s Peoplestown neighborhood, Goldstein says the city is working on a reimagining of its tree ordinance.
Atlanta is known for its tree canopy, having been recognized by the National Forest Service as the most heavily forested urban area in the United States. While beneficial environmentally and a source of pride for many residents, power outages caused by falling limbs have become an issue, especially during storm season. Goldstein says the city is working on a plan to identify, remove and/or replant trees that are proving problematic.
“The first step is to map out where these trees are, and the second step is to try to figure out what to do about it so that we don’t repeat the problems that other big cities have seen,” says Goldstein. “It’s a work in progress and there is no solution in place yet, but it’s on the radar for our city.”
— John Nelson
At the Oct. 5 event, CREW Atlanta also recognized its 2018 Board of Directors and John Marshall, assistant professor of law at Georgia State University, spoke about some of the factors that cities need to consider for their disaster response plans.