ACTrees Interview: Greg Levine on Creating a 22-Mile Urban Arboretum

Greg Levine, Co-Executive Director and Chief Program Officer of Trees Atlanta and a member of ACTrees Board of Directors, shares with us Trees Atlanta’s mission, and why they’re taking an active role in developing the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. Get Greg’s insight on the value of arboretums for public education and more. Here’s our interview:

Greg Levine 2013 Pix with TreeACTrees: Tell us a bit about Trees Atlanta. What’s its mission?

Greg Levine: Trees Atlanta is a nationally recognized citizens group that protects and improves Atlanta’s urban forest by planting, conserving, and educating people about the importance of trees. Trees Atlanta will celebrate the planting of its 100,000th tree at “The Root Ball” on the 27th of March.

ACTrees: How does Trees Atlanta support urban forests in the city?

GL: We plant trees through three programs. The first is NeighborWoods, a volunteer program that plants trees. We plant during October’s National Neighborwoods® month through March. The second program is Urban Trees, where we manage the planting of 2.5” caliper and larger trees. The third is Forest Restoration. This program aims to replant the urban forest after the removal of invasive exotics. We also have many youth and adult education programs. All of these programs are in support of our work on the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. It’s one, if not the biggest, project of its kind in the country, and Trees Atlanta offers the only-led docent tour on the BeltLine.

Trees Atlanta - MLK 2013 387ACTrees: What is the Atlanta Beltline which won a U.S. EPA 2013 National Award for Smart Growth?

GL: The Atlanta BeltLine is the most comprehensive transportation and economic development effort ever undertaken in the City of Atlanta and among the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment programs currently underway in the United States. The Atlanta BeltLine is a sustainable redevelopment project that will provide a network of public parks, an arboretum, multi-use trails, and transit along a historic 22-mile railroad corridor circling downtown and connecting many neighborhoods to each other.

ACTrees: What’s Trees Atlanta’s involvement in the Atlanta Beltline?

GL: We developed the concept of the Atlanta Beltline Arboretum and got it included as a major component of the project. We’re helping to design, raise money, and implement this part of the project.

Trees Atlanta - DSCF0002ACTrees: Why is a public arboretum, such as the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum, important to a community?

GL: Arboretums give a place of respite and escape from urban areas. They bring another level of design as well as educational opportunity to gardens focusing on trees and woody plants. Not enough study goes into trees. Arboretums can be the place where the focus is on trees—for study, demonstration, and solving environmental problems. Arboretums give trees the attention they deserve!

ACTrees: What advice do you have for communities that may want to work with local or regional partnerships to support public education for trees and green infrastructure?

GL: Be very selective what you concentrate on. It is easy to spread out too thin. Be creative in recognizing the projects where your organization can make a difference. Hire passionate, hardworking, and smart staff. Be a positive place for change. Don’t just talk the talk –ACT! Do all these things and opportunities will open up for your organization.

Greg Levine, Co-Executive Director and Chief Program Officer of Trees Atlanta, planted his first tree, a purple leafed Japanese maple, when he was just five years of age. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia. In 1995, he left a Landscape Architecture firm to work for the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. Shortly after that, he was hired as Volunteer Coordinator for Trees Atlanta. Now a certified arborist, Greg helped to write Trees Atlanta’ Forest Restoration Manual and was selected as one of Atlanta Homes magazine’s “Emerging Talent — Twenty Under Forty.”