The Paula Gordon Show
"Public Lands - Lands For People"

There's something special about land. For 25 years, a remarkable organization called the Trust for Public Land (TPL) has been a catalyst for people working together on the local, state and national level to conserve land for people. In addition to creating open spaces in urban centers, protecting watersheds and creating economic boons, there's been an equally important benefit -- a sense of community arises when people are focused on saving or creating "land for people."

The Trust for Public Land draws people together as we Americans struggle to overcome "the arrogance of abundance." The Trust helps local people, real estate developers, environmentalists, politicians and other unlikely bedfellows create partnerships. Together, they create solutions to sometimes immensely complicated challenges. Wildlife is often a beneficiary, but people are TPL's focus. TPL's certain that our cities are vital to our individual and collective well being. They are also confident their ambitious goals can be reached -- with a lot of help.

This quiet non-advocacy group is fiercely inclusive and has an astonishing success record. In 25 years, they have facilitated 1,500 transactions in 44 states with an acquisition valuation of over $1,000,000,000 (that's $1B) to their credit. They provide local leaders with the intellectual capital born of this vast experience as well as real capital. Their long range plans include raising $3B by the year 2000 while expanding their cities program to 30 cities.

Christopher Glenn Sawyer is the new Chairman of the Trust's Board, the first from outside TPL's base in the San Francisco Bay area. His ascendancy represents the decidedly national character of the Trust which grew from roots in The Nature Conservancy.

Local leaders supported by the TPL are beginning to have a profound impact that's stretching from America's urban centers to our watersheds and deep wilderness areas. Is TPL's greatest accomplishment the powerfully positive economic impact of solving problems before they arise or open spaces in urban centers or the sense of community that grows among people working together to protect land? You pick. They don't have to.

What does it take to make your dream of saving or creating a special place in your community? First, decide what in your surroundings is important to you, worth preserving or creating for your children and grandchildren. Then be confident your dream can become a reality. The Trust has a whole tool kit of ways to work through all the complex nitty-gritty realities of putting together land deals. They've made 1,500 dreams come true. And they've only just begun.

Christopher Sawyer

Christopher Glenn Sawyer is the Trust for Public Land's first chairman from outside the San Francisco Bay Area. He's a real estate lawyer, partner and head of the real estate investment section of the prestigious 103 year old Atlanta, Georgia, law firm Alston & Bird, where he's worked since 1978. He graduated from the University of North Carolina, holds a Master of Divinity from Yale University where he was a Rockefeller Fellow and earned his law degree from Duke University.

Chris spent childhood summer vacations roaming marshes which have given way to high-density development around Murrell's Inlet, South Carolina. He lives in Atlanta with his photographer wife, Julie, and their two children who are reported to share Chris' devotion to fishing.


Conversation 1

Chris Sawyer tells Paula Gordon, Bill Russell and members of The Commerce Club about TPL's remarkable 25 year history -- 1,500 transactions in 44 states with an acquisition valuation of over $1B. An off-shoot of The Nature Conservancy, TPL helps local people and organizations conserve land for people -- parks, recreation and cultural areas, viewscapes, greenways and watersheds. What's good for people is often good for wildlife, too.

Conversation 2

Chris describes how TPL uses the environment to build "community." Local visionaries -- "people of all stripes, shades, sizes, rich folks & poor folks, Democrats and Republicans" -- bring TPL their an ideas of how they want to improve their city, town or village by conserving land for people. TPL provides both intellectual capital and real capital to help people realize their dreams. In the process, communities become emboldened to do more.

He tells stories which support his observation there's been a "sea change" in America as people are increasingly working together at the local, state and federal level for the environment.

Conversation 3

Chris describes how TPL has been remarkably successful in helping people see the value in conserving land for people. From Miami to Austin, Texas, to the Rocky Mountains, Chris tells how projects bring people together, focused are land. He recounts successful tactics for raising money to carry out people's dreams.

When there's a good idea and fervent community support, TPL takes risks, ever mindful of their stewardship responsibilities. TPL's entrepreneurial spirit saved Dr. Martin Luther King's birth home in Atlanta, in the early 1980's. It was the starting point for today's major urban space which stretches through Atlanta from a rejuvenated "Sweet Auburn" to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. What did it take? Staying power, diligence, persistence and a focus on the long-term. "Land communicates in funny ways."

Conversation 4

Developers build communities we ask for. Chris suggest we must begin to ask for different kinds of communities, rather than "demonizing" developers. He describes his excitement about how people in real estate all over the country are looking for new ways to meet a host of needs. He gives examples of how America and Americans have suffered from "the arrogance of plenty."

Cities all over the country are coming to TPL for help figuring out how to protect the green spaces we can no longer take for granted. ╩Examples range from the Los Angeles River to Georgia's Chattahoochee, Minneapolis-St.Paul to New York City. ╩TPL has dramatic evidence that open spaces can prevent problems before they arise and can be a major economic boon.

Conversation 5

Local people must identify what needs to be done. The TPL can help figure out how to make the vision a reality. Sometimes it's enormously complex. Chris gives examples of putting deals together, figuring out how to make ideas work, from ownership, financing and legal issues, through negotiating contracts, confronting technical challenges and making sure operational and maintenance issues are addressed properly. He talks about the "tool kit" TPL offers people and uses "brownfields" as an example of how TPL works to shape solutions.

TPL's long range plan includes raising $3B by the year 2000 and expanding their cities program to 30 cities. They are certain that our cities are vital to our well being and confident their ambitious goals can be reached -- with a lot of help.

Conversation 6

TPL helps bring local partners together in sometimes hugely complex deals which can have vast implications. Chris tells how protecting 10,000 acres of wilderness for hunting, fishing, hiking, biking also restored justice to the Nez Perce people.

Chris urges us to think about what makes where we live special, decide if our children should also have those special places and then be confident you can save it for them. TPL can help.


Stephen Lutz is a good friend, always on the lookout for interesting new developments in the world around us. He was the first to tell us about the Trust for Public Land.

Don Stahle, Development Director of the Southeast Region of The Trust for Public Land, generously shared his time and attention, eagerly introducing us to the specifics of the Trust when we appeared "out of the blue."

The Commerce Club is a place where leaders of the Atlanta community gather in our increasingly vital downtown. The Club always provides us a warm welcome. We were particularly pleased to welcome members of The Commerce Society and Retired Members of The Club as we shared lunch and conversation with Chris Sawyer.

Our thanks to all involved.

Related Links:
The Trust for Public Land ( offers a "tool kit" on their webpage.

The Nature Conservancy ( is the organization from which the Trust sprung 25 years ago.

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