Cities across the country are increasingly adopting data-driven approaches to establishing goals and priorities for large-scale tree restoration projects. This approach is made possible by new technologies that provide a detailed look at the urban tree canopy (UTC), or the layer of leaves, branches, and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.
“The data goes beyond determining the amount of tree canopy,” says Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne, Director of the Spatial Analysis Lab. These maps are overlaid with census reports, demographics, property records, and other datasets that allow cities and not-for-profits to prioritize tree-planting efforts and tree maintenance plans, but also to understand patterns of environmental justice and to justify budget increases for urban forestry programs.
Cities like New York, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. are using LiDAR data to inform tree-planting initiatives. In 2010, New York City funded LiDAR data collection to map the city’s tree canopy and prioritize the goals of the MillionTreesNYC initiative.
The non-profit organization Tree Pittsburgh is using the urban tree canopy data to not only prioritize tree-plantings, but to also begin to address larger urban issues, such as economic justice and the challenge of shrinking cities. “A lot can be learned overlaying tree canopy data with other datasets,” said Danielle Crumrine, director of Tree Pittsburgh. Crumrine’s organization is using the data to focus tree-planting efforts near senior centers and schools in areas suffering from the urban heat island effect. “We would love to overlay asthma and obesity rates,” Crumrine said. Pittsburgh’s urban tree canopy maps are also being used to address long-term planning issues. The city is “thinking about how to connect vacant land to existing Greenways,” said Crumrine.