How Green Is Our City? The Urban Forest Mapping Project

Kelaine Vargas (Urban Forest Map)
Web Applications
Location: Ballroom A1
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Our urban forests – the trees along our streets, in our backyards, and in our parks – are the lifeblood of our city’s ecosystem, working tirelessly to clean our air and water, fight global warming, conserve energy, and provide a home for wildlife. But just what contribution are the trees making? How “green” is our urban forest? And how and where can we improve?

The Urban Forest Mapping Project is an open-source, web-based, collective-collaborative project to celebrate and demonstrate the value of city trees and their contribution to urban ecosytems. Bringing together information from government agencies and local non-profit groups and, most importantly, with online input from community members, we will map every tree in the city and calculate how much energy they are conserving, how many pounds of air pollution they are absorbing, how many gallons of stormwater they are filtering, and how many tons of carbon dioxide they are removing from the air.

The Urban Forest Mapping Project team began work on the application to map our cities’ trees in 2006. The final product, now in development, includes (1) an open-source, web-based, centrally hosted community input tree-mapping application that can be adapted to meet local needs, (2) a science-based tool to calculate the urban forest’s environmental benefits, in particular climate change mitigation, (3) customized widgets and application development for different municipalities, (4) flexibility to incorporate other ecosystem components, (5) monitoring capability for greenhouse gas offset programs and (6) mobile access via smart phones.

In our presentation, we’ll describe the reasons for the project, the technical foundations of the application, our experience with and plans for assessing the validity of crowd-sourced data, and potential areas of expansion for the map in the new “green” economy. The topic will be valuable to anyone interested in crowd-sourced data, web-based mapping, green tech opportunities, or more broadly, the role that our urban natural resources play in increasing sustainability.

Photo of Kelaine Vargas

Kelaine Vargas

Urban Forest Map

Kelaine Vargas is an urban ecologist and project manager of the Urban Forest Mapping Project. She studied landscape architecture and ecology at North Carolina State University and continued research in the field of urban ecology as a Fulbright Scholar in Berlin and for several years with the U.S. Forest Service. Outside the Urban Forest Mapping Project, she works as a consultant helping entities make better use of their natural resources as they work toward achieving sustainability.

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