What Urban Tree Canopy can Do for Your Neighbors
Trees deliver many different benefits. Early in your planning, you should determine which of these benefits are most important to your community — and where they’re most needed. If you haven’t already, please review the research and case studies featured elsewhere on the site. There you can find current, rigorous and detailed support about the impact of increasing your tree canopy:
- Human Health
- Economic Development
- Water Quality
- Air Quality
- Public Safety
- City Planning
- Smart Cities Tech
- Urban Wood Reuse
Who’s Getting the Benefits, Who’s Not
Just as tree canopy varies across neighborhoods, so too do the services and benefits these trees can deliver. Remember: your goal is to plant the right trees in the right places, so that every citizen gets their fair share of the benefits. But you can make the most informed decisions in two different ways — either with a quick snapshot, or a more intensive study.
The quick snapshot
With just a few simple clicks, i-Tree Landscape will build a map of your town, your city or your neighborhood that shows a rough outline of your tree canopy and an estimate of the services and benefits these trees can deliver. You can explore tree canopy, land cover, and basic demographic information in a location of your choosing, learn about the benefits of trees in your selected location, see how planting trees will increase the benefits provided, and map the areas where you decide to prioritize your tree planting efforts. It’s not difficult; you can find directions here.
The intensive study
First, get the best tree canopy map you can. Often your municipal or county planning office can provide a detailed canopy map. Or, if you have sufficient funds, you can find consultants [even some with drones] who can overfly your community and create a canopy map. Funds permitting, many communities commission detailed LIDAR mapping with hyper-spectral imaging to better understand species distribution, tree height, potential health risks, etc.
Now, add other map layers.
- tax maps [available from your city or county government]
- watershed maps
- chronic disease statistics [check your county health department and/or local hospitals]
- emergency room visits [check your county health department and/or local hospitals]
- stormwater maps
- poverty indicators
- food deserts
- heat island “hot spots”
- climate change
- student performance
- crime statistics
The more data layers you add, the better able you’ll be to understand the relationship between tree canopy and all the ways it can make for a more healthy, livable and resilient community.
But Wait — Somebody May Have Done it For You!
Many of these different data have already been mapped together. Community Commons offers an easy-to-use platform that allows anyone with modest computer skills to complete a local map with health and demographic indicators. EPA’s BenMap combines environmental and economic conditions into a multi-layered map that shows how poverty and poor environmental conditions overlap. For a more comprehensive data set, check out EPA’s EnviroAtlas. The Centers for Disease Control sponsors the 500 Cities Project, which provides city- and census tract-level small area estimates for chronic disease risk factors, health outcomes, and clinical preventive service use for the largest 500 cities in the United States.
And Then What?
Don’t fixate on your own goals. Remember, nothing significant can happen in a community without a critical mass of people behind it. That’s especially true for green initiatives – where professionals from different disciplines and public alike must come together to agree on a common vision for the places they live.
At this point, all you’ve done is build a foundation for dialog. Decisions come later.