Ed McMahon, keynote speaker at Sandy Springs Conservancy's Thought Leaders dinner
Ed McMahon, keynote speaker at Sandy Springs Conservancy’s Thought Leaders dinner

“Money does grow on trees” was the message at a Sandy Springs Conservancy dinner on April 24.

Keynote speaker Ed McMahon, who holds the Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, discussed how cities can up their worth by adding and preserving green space.

“Every community in America needs a long-term preservation plan,” he said, adding later, “You can grow in Sandy Springs without destroying the places you love.”

McMahon said that while cities and developers may have to pay to incorporate green space, in the end it’s a worthwhile investment that increases real estate values.

He pointed to the old trend of “paving paradise and putting up parking lots” being replace with today’s trend of “tearing up the parking lot and putting up paradise” as a positive investment. “As we grow our communities we have to green them,” he said.

McMahon said that Sandy Springs’ future City Center mixed use development that will incorporate green space and make the city more walkable is a step in that direction. He added that it’s possible that in as little as 10 years the city center will “set a new standard” for surrounding communities.

Steve Levetan, the conservancy’s chairman, also spoke about the city center and other Sandy Springs projects.

He said the conservancy was built out of a desire to manage growth. “Long before there was a city many of us wrestled with how to manage growth in a sprawling bedroom community,” he said. “The Sandy Springs Conservancy grew out of a grassroots desire to preserve and create more parks and civic green space at a time when those needs were not otherwise being met.”

Levetan said that since Sandy Springs became a city, it’s moving forward on some of those goals.

“We’re poised to move forward on a great civic venture – creating a city center to revitalize our aging downtown commercial district,” Levetan said. “Now in our ninth year of cityhood Sandy Springs has established a successful government that can boast well-received new parks and green space like Overlook Park at Morgan Falls, the Lost Corner Preserve and the Abernathy Greenway.”

The park, preserve and greenway were all projects the conservancy invested in. “Since 2007 we’ve been working with the city and local neighborhoods on the design of the Abernathy Greenway,” Levetan said. “The [greenway] will open soon as an extraordinary city park and gateway feature.”

Levetan said that Sandy Springs leaders need to follow in the footsteps of communities around metro Atlanta and the country who are making aggressive investments in green space to build community, attract business and increase the public balance.

“We need to understand how we can leverage such investments in our city,” he said. “We believe green space is key to helping Sandy Springs achieve its potential.”