"My beloved hometown of Decatur is well managed and in many ways offers an idyllic, walkable downtown, like generations of Georgians can remember. Though one can seldom get too much of a good thing, it is still possible to over-indulge," said columnist Bill Crane in a July 2012, Georgia View column in Georgia Trend magazine.
Nearing a decade ago now, we started a raised bed vegetable garden behind our Scottdale home. I wanted to try my hand at tomatoes and a few other home-grown veggies, as well as educate my youngest child on where our food supply comes from, and perhaps broaden her interest and taste for vegetables that weren't potatoes. We’ve had great success with the former, and the latter...not so much.
Those years in the 'grotten,' toddler Olivia's early name for our tiny green space, don't make me into an expert like DeKalb County's famed Extension Agent, Walter Reeves, but it has caused me to learn more than a little bit about what will and won't grow well in our non-amended and heavily under-fertilized DeKalb County topsoil atop a miles-long granite shelf which eventually raises to become Stone Mountain, twin Arabia Mountain and the several granite quarries nearby.
Our topsoil is predominantly red clay, well compacted and requires nitrogen, fertilizer and other amending to produce solid crops, beautiful flowers or even strong lawns. During 2012, the City of Decatur and MARTA were completing a rather significant renovation of the Decatur MARTA station rooftop, which is at the center of the Decatur square, and including the adjoining small lawn and green space, centered around the performance gazebo behind the Old DeKalb County Courthouse.
As recently as May of 2012, the Decatur City Council, at the behest of longtime City Manager Peggy Merriss, appropriated $375,000.00 for the mini-lawn re-do. You are reading correctly, though given the 1/8-1/4 of an acre of lawn surface, this sounds more like a federal government level expenditure.
There was some pushback at the time, as that grand gazebo, sidewalks, benches and park like atmosphere could all be well maintained laying astro-turf or some similar artificial surface, given the festivals, regular foot traffic and family/dog lounging which daily occurs in the tiny green-space.
The mini-park is adjacent to a Decatur MARTA station entrance/exit as well as atop the station. The new lawn required gravel, fresh topsoil, drainage lines and an irrigation system, despite the warnings of many that without ending/limiting or removing the foot and people traffic that a green, grassy lawn was not sustainable. Since then, as that new lawn soon died, Decatur has thrice re-sodded and/or replanted, patched and thatched that ailing lawn.
Not knowing the exact costs of the three re-sods...I think it's safe to say that Decatur has now probably spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $1-3 per blade of grass, before finally reaching the long advised determination that astro-turf is the better choice for this space, and another $39,383.00 has now been awarded in a contract with Atlanta-based Synthetic Turf to install artificial turf atop what is now the remaining dirt and small patches of weed which have survived.
At a fraction of the cost and much easier to maintain, this artificial turf should easily last a decade before need for repainting or replacement (yes, you can green spray and re-paint artificial turf...isn't that green/grand?).
Fake grass may not blend well with the positioned egalitarian, left-leaning community (at least covering the sometime elitist leadership decisions underneath) as well as Decatur’s so often stated and prioritized sustainability, but common sense and practical green-space planning should also include the use of recycled materials and when necessary artificial versus organic components, such as the rubberized pellets and flooring now found on most public playgrounds, to best serve the purpose intended at a reasonable cost. Pelletized rubber from old tires lasts a lot longer than re-sodding playground lawns each year, and the city has understood that with most of its playground spaces in city parks for several years now.
Not all cities are as fortunate as my hometown of Decatur to have several hundred grand to expend on a lawn much smaller than the average homeowner who helped fund this green-space. Yes, it's a microcosm, among millions otherwise well spent, but it also under-scores that it sometimes pays to listen to outside voices, coming from multiple sources, and always managing resources as if you will soon be doing more with less. That's just making the best and most sustainable use of what will always be limited green.