I revisit the subject of urban greenery on a fairly regular basis. My vision of a better world still involves cities, but I want those cities to be integrated with the surrounding ecosystems as much as possible. Rather than being a sort of desert landscape, we could have cities that could almost feel like living in a forest. Beyond the mental and physical health benefits, there’s also the fact that plants tend to lower the temperature around them, rather than simply absorbing heat the way asphalt and concrete do. As the climate warms, the amount of plant life in and around cities is going to make a big difference in how hot they get. To that end, we should be both advocating for new green spaces, and defending those that currently exist, whether or not that existence is “official”.
I add that last bit because there’s just such a fight going on right now in Atlanta, GA. A prison farm that used convict slaves to grow food for Atlanta’s prison population closed down in 1989, and has since been increasingly consumed by forest. That’s all well and good, but there are a couple problems. The land is still owned by the city, and it’s apparently been used as a dumping ground, and a firing range for Atlanta police. The early stages of a new development project have begun, which will clear away a big chunk of the forest in order to make a sort of “dummy city” for the cops to train in.
Because as we all know, what we need is for law enforcement to become more militarized.
That would be bad enough, but unfortunately there’s more to the story. I’ll just quote the folks working to defend the forest:
ATLANTA IS A CITY IN A FOREST
We have the highest percentage of tree canopy of any major metropolitan area in America. Our canopy is the main factor in ensuring Atlanta’s resiliency in the face of climate change. The forest in Southeast Atlanta is home to wetlands that filter rainwater and prevent flooding. It is also one of the last breeding grounds for many amphibians in the region, as well as an important migration site for wading birds.
The history of this particular land is deeply scarred. In the 1800s shortly after the land was stolen from Muscogee Creek peoples, it was used as a plantation. In the early 1900s, a prison farm was opened where inmates were forced to perform unpaid agricultural labor, marking the rebranding of slavery into for profit prison labor. The Atlanta Police Department currently uses this hallowed ground as a firing range.
This forest is at risk of destruction as the police and Hollywood make plans to pave over Atlanta’s largest remaining green space.
The Atlanta Police Department seeks to turn 300 acres of forest into a tactical training compound featuring a mock city. This project was recently announced to the shock of community members who had been given no opportunity to weigh in on the proposal. The entire process has been shadier than the forest itself.
Intrenchment Creek is an existing public park adjacent to the Prison Farm. Dekalb County seeks to swap this land with Blackhall Studios, a major film production company. Blackhall wants to clear cut 170 acres of forest to develop into an airport and erect the largest sound stage in America. This project would cement Atlanta as the new Hollywood, making the cost of living in our city outrageous.
We refuse to let our forest be bulldozed in favor of the police and sold out to Hollywood. There are many forms of action and advocacy to be taken. This is a broad, decentralized, autonomous movement. Get involved in whatever ways move you. Take a walk in the forest with your friends.
Forests and other wild spaces are vital public resources, and should be protected. I’ve talked before about how enraging it is that we’re all forced to just go through life like nothing’s happening, while the rest of the biosphere collapses around us, and a tiny number of the most evil people on the planet use their obscene wealth and power to continue the destruction of everything we hold dear. It’s difficult to know how to discuss these things for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that I’m not always sure where the boundaries of legality are when it comes to discussing what to do about unjust laws. I’m very glad that movements like this go out of their way to avoid harming any of the people they’re trying to stop, but I also find it encouraging that they’re clearly unwilling to abide by a rule of law that would see us all die to maintain the lifestyles of the rich and powerful.
The reality is that if we are going to survive, we need to protect every halfway-healthy ecosystem we can. That may be less urgent than ending fossil fuel extraction and use, but not by a whole lot.
I was talking to someone on Twitter the other day about what I do and don’t want for the world, and because it’s so easy to miscommunicate on a platform like that I ended up doing a brief rundown of what changes I think humanity needs to make. It’s… It’s a lot. There’s so much work to do, it’s hard to wrap my head around. I talked a while back about the problem of chemical pollution, separate from climate change, and that’s something that we can help by stopping pollution at the source, but I think it’d be a very good idea for us to do what we can to actively clean stuff up. I’m no doctor, but maybe it’s not good that there’s plastic and other shit in our blood? That’s going to mean cleaning up old dumping grounds like the area in the Atlanta forest, and cleaning up what could be centuries of mine waste, and battlegrounds all over the world, and sunken ships, and all the while the richest people on the planet want to keep making that monumental task bigger.
At what point is it self defense to obstruct this kind of “development”? At what point is it self defense to force the closure of a factory that’s poisoning your water?
As with white supremacy, the United States has responded to these questions with bluster and resentful concessions at best, and outright denial at worst. The reality is that our current structure of laws and norms has always devalued life, and now it seems poised to simply make life impossible for large portions of the planet’s population.
Part of the reason I favor the approach of local organizing networked to allow for national or global action, is that while we face huge, planetary problems, their manifestations are local in nature. Different communities have different needs, and the people on the ground – as in Atlanta – best know what the stakes are for themselves. The same was true with the opposition to the Keystone pipeline extension – activists came from all across the country to help, and they put themselves under the leadership of the Indigenous people whose land they were trying to defend.
People in Atlanta are fighting to do what their city’s government will not, and preserve the ecosystem that gives Atlanta its best hope of a better future as the climate warms. I support what they’re doing, and I hope to see more actions like it in the coming years. Maybe I’m just a bit too cynical, but I don’t see our “leaders” doing anything real any time soon, and we’re short on time.
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