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What Makes Atlanta A Tree City USA?

May 27th, 2024

Drive anywhere in metropolitan Atlanta and you’re sure to encounter plenty of greenery.

It comes with the locale! From live oaks to pine groves to maples, dogwoods, magnolias and more, Atlanta has more than earned the title of Tree City USA. 

But what exactly does that mean? Here are the qualifications needed for a community to achieve the much-coveted status of an Arbor Foundation Tree City.

For the love of (Atlanta’s) trees

What is Tree City USA?

The Tree City USA program starts with the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit that has been dedicated to planting trees since its inception in 1969. In fact, it was founded 100 years after the first Arbor Day was celebrated!

The Arbor Day Foundation has a myriad of programs and events that are all focused on planting, caring for and nurturing trees. There’s a strong focus on reforestation, urban tree planting and community service, and you can read all about their programs and what they’ve been up to here in their 2023 report. The foundation also has partners all over the world that aid in these efforts, and in 2022 the foundation set a goal to plant 500 million trees by 2027! 

The Tree City USA program is a large piece of the Arbor Day Foundation’s efforts to create greener and more educated communities. And, having been started way back in 1976, it’s also one of the oldest programs within the foundation.

At its core, the Tree City USA program is a recognition–based program that encourages towns and cities to develop and maintain a canopy cover. The program outlines the criteria and the four basic steps needed to fulfill them, and rewards successful communities with both national and global recognition!

Tree Cities around the world

Tree Cities of the World is a separate program that, like the United States’ program, has a series of standards to meet before recognition is awarded. Cities in the United States can also qualify for Tree City of the World Status in addition to their Tree City USA status — that’s double the recognition!

Here’s a list of all the recognized Tree Cities of the World. How many of them have you been to?

Tree City USA eligibility

The international Tree City program is super cool, but we’ll focus on the national program for now since that’s where Atlanta comes in!

To qualify for a Tree City USA recognition, the communities have to meet the following four standards.

Maintain a tree board or department

This can look like a lot of different things, but at its core, this standard means that there has to be someone that’s legally required to oversee the care and management of any trees on town-owned property. That means that the public has someone that they can look to for decisions that will affect said trees, and that the necessary resources can be diverted to their upkeep.

Have a community tree care ordinance

This is where policy comes in. In order to properly maintain trees in cities, there must be rules and regulations that govern their care and use. There’s a lot that goes into this, from guidance on planting, pruning, trimming and watering to plans for future development and protection from any damage. 

Spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry

This is where it gets really tricky — and, for large communities with a great population, more impressive!

This standard requires communities to spend at least $2 per resident on urban forestry programs. As of 2024, the population of metro Atlanta was a staggering 6.19 million, which means that the annual budget dedicated to urban trees would have to be around $12.38 million! That’s a pretty sizable chunk of change, and it all goes to forestry. 

Celebrate Arbor Day

This is a pretty simple one, but it can look different depending on the community!

Georgia’s Arbor Day, for example, is usually celebrated in February when the weather has warmed enough to start planting trees. Other communities may have to wait until April or May for the weather to warm enough, and some places celebrate as early as January!

Trees Atlanta usually offers a host of community events and activities each Georgia Arbor Day, with a big focus on  community plantings, education and tours of some of the city’s parks. 

Benefits of taking care of urban trees

Now that you know how Atlanta has become a Tree City USA, it’s probably time to understand the why behind all this work and commitment. 

Trees do much more than look pretty (though, to be fair, they do a great job of that, too!). In fact, communities with an urban forest enjoy many benefits.

  • Tree canopies can help reduce noise levels in busy urban areas by up to 40%! All that organic material absorbs soundwaves and reduces noise pollution, which can in turn reduce stress levels and sleep disturbances.
  • Trees are cool… literally. Trees create shade and absorb heat from the sun, leaving sidewalks, pavements, parks and homes cooler — 7-9% cooler, in fact. Not only does this reflect on your electric bill (because we all know surviving Atlanta summers means relying on A/C), but it can make commuting by foot, by bike or by public transport a little more enjoyable! 
  • Trees make us happier. Studies show that green spaces offer a range of mental and physical health benefits, including reduced stress levels, increased mood and lower blood pressure! Plus, your dog will be the happiest version of themselves when they’re running through a park, barking as a squirrel just out of reach or peeing on a historic oak. 
  • Trees are good for the atmosphere. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen as a byproduct, meaning we get clean air to breathe and the atmosphere is spared more harmful greenhouse gasses. It’s a win-win!

Atlanta’s love of trees

Atlanta is known for its trees outside of being one of the many Tree City USA title holders in the country. It’s also known as the City in a Forest, and for good reason — around 47.9% of the total land area is covered by tree canopy! For context, the national average is around 27%.

If you live anywhere near our luxury Atlanta apartments or have been to any one of its many, many parks, then that figure won’t surprise you at all. Atlanta has been a recognized Tree City USA for 38 years and is likely to get greener and greener each year! 

Take part in a Georgia Arbor Day event next time it rolls around and get to experience the city’s love and appreciation for its leafy neighbors. Chances are you’ll be a part of Atlanta’s greener, cleaner and happier future while you’re at it!


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Featured photo by Terry Granger on Unsplash

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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