Displaying all posts in the Developing OTM category.

Defining the Open in OpenTreeMap: What Does it Mean for OpenTreeMap to be Open Source?

Volunteers for Asheville GreenWorks at a tree planting event.

Volunteers for Asheville GreenWorks at a tree planting event.

Being an open source software means our source code is available for anyone to use and improve at no cost. Any software engineer whether or not they work at Azavea, the company that makes OpenTreeMap, can help us improve the software or take the code and create a custom tree map. The only requirement is that all changes are made freely available. In contrast, proprietary software has source code that only the original authors can legally copy and update. Because many groups do not have the time or resources required, we created a paid subscription service. In exchange for an annual fee, we host the map for you. We are able to spread out the hosting costs across our entire customer base, which for many makes purchasing a subscription less expensive than setting up and hosting a map.

Our goal is to make communities greener and more sustainable, and doing so is only possible if people around the world have the opportunity to build off the work we’ve done. Allowing software developers outside Azavea to contribute means we’re able to add new features and functionality more quickly than if we relied exclusively on our small but dedicated team of developers. Incorporating features built by people outside the company also ensures we continue to build a product that meets the needs of users worldwide.  

Many municipalities and nonprofit organizations, including the City of Asheville, North Carolina, have used OpenTreeMap code to build their own tree map. By using our code, the city saved time and resources that would have otherwise been spent building a tree mapping application from scratch. While Asheville’s map looks and functions very similarly to maps we host through our subscription service the city does not pay us.

The City of Asheville's tree map can be found at http://ashevilletreemap.org/.

You can access the City of Asheville’s tree at http://ashevilletreemap.org/.

The City of Asheville crowdsourced tree data in order to reduce the costs associated with an inventory and engage citizens in urban forestry efforts. Building an inventory for a city the size of Asheville can strain limited economic resources and be incredibly time consuming if done by the city’s small urban forestry staff. By creating a map the public could update, the city in conjunction with Asheville GreenWorks a local nonprofit, has engaged hundreds of volunteers and collected data on thousands of trees.

Today, the map is primarily managed by Asheville GreenWorks but continues to be maintained by the city’s Information Technology (IT) department. The nonprofit uses the map to fill out the city’s inventory, and track plantings and maintenance. Asheville’s Department of Parks and Recreation also adds data to the map on their new plantings. By collecting tree data in one centralized location, the city is better prepared to create an urban forest management plan. According to Rick Carpenter, the Urban Forest Coordinator for Asheville GreenWorks,

“You need an urban forest inventory analysis to create policy change and you need input and backing from citizens. We could hire a large tree corporation who for a lot of money would complete and analyze our inventory for us, however, this does not create a sense of place or vested interest from the community members. If you want to change policy you need the backing of people in the area and the best way to do that is by using OpenTreeMap.”

Carpenter has noticed that by mapping, volunteers feel a vested interest in the trees they survey and are more likely to support urban forestry initiatives in the future.

In order to receive funding from the city, Asheville GreenWorks must create site plans, planting plans and project proposals. Historically, they have prepared these reports using QGIS and SketchUp, but Asheville GreenWorks plans to begin using OpenTreeMap’s new modeling and prioritization module in the future. This new suite of features will allow them to more easily create deliverables they previously gathered from a variety of different sources.

Asheville GreenWorks engages students of all ages in their planting programs.

Asheville GreenWorks engages students of all ages in their planting programs.

Carpenter has recruited students studying ecology and forestry at local universities to map trees. By engaging students the city gets additional data that helps them better manage their inventory and the students get an introduction to GIS and data collection. Students and other volunteers use a dichotomous key to identify tree species before entering information on the map. Carpenter fact checks random samples of data and has been impressed by the accuracy of the data. Click here for an summary of Asheville GreenWorks’ urban forestry initiatives and the impact they’ve had across the city.

We realize not all cities and organizations have the technical expertise of Asheville. There are many communities with OpenTreeMap subscriptions that want to see additional features added to the software, but do not have the time or resources to contribute code themselves. In cases where we think feature requests from individual customers would have utility for the broader OpenTreeMap community, we are able to cost share on software development. In other words, we discount the cost of building a feature in return for the ability to share that feature across the entire platform. If you are interested in seeing a particular feature built, please reach out.

Since 1973, tens of thousands of volunteers have worked with Asheville GreenWorks to plant trees, clean rivers and improve the environment.

Since the organization’s founding in 1973, tens of thousands of volunteers have worked with Asheville GreenWorks to plant trees, clean rivers and improve the environment.

In addition to bringing collaboration and transparency into our development process, we believe being open source gives us a competitive advantage. For this reason, the same principles that guide our product development help shape our business development efforts. We are committed to building a community of urban forestry practitioners and build a platform for people to share ideas and use those ideas to strengthen their own communities. To receive urban forestry news and product updates consider signing up for our newsletter here, or to have your work featured please get in touch with us directly.

To set up a “production” version of OpenTreeMap, we recommend reviewing our installation guide. If you want to set up OpenTreeMap for development and contribute to the open source project, additional information can be found here. To ask specific questions related to use of OpenTreeMap source code, please join the user group.

Azavea has made a demonstrated commitment to building and contributing to open source software beyond just OpenTreeMap. For a list of tools and libraries, you can check out our GitHub as well as the GeoTrellis, OpenDataPhilly and DistrictBuilder projects.

Using Existing Data to Analyze and Plan your Urban Forest

Trees line a city street.

A new tool from OpenTreeMap allows communities to use existing sociodemographic and land-use data to make more informed planting decisions and estimate the future ecosystem benefits of those trees over a 30-year period.

Cities, non-profit organizations and other land-managing institutions face competing priorities when it comes to managing the urban forest. Many organizations want to incorporate data on urban heat island effect, air quality and population density into their planting decisions, but do not have the GIS expertise or data required to do so. With OpenTreeMap’s new modeling and prioritization tools, you can generate heat maps of optimal planting locations that are customized based on your selection criteria, and experiment with digitally planting trees of various species and sizes to model the growth and mortality rates of those trees.

We have included two data sets from the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) on tree canopy and impervious surface as well as additional data on population density, economics, and housing. In order to make the tool accessible to the widest audience, we only used data that is available in the continental U.S., does not have usage restrictions and has a level of geographic accuracy that makes it helpful in making planting decisions.

A screenshot of OpenTreeMap's prioritization tool.

OpenTreeMap allows you to prioritize your planting criterion by selecting custom weights. Shown here is a map created to identify optimal planting sites in Milwaukee based on population density, median household income and percent tree canopy coverage.

Your planting priorities may be dictated by other factors not yet included in the tool, which is why we can upload additional overlays to the map for you. For example, we can upload additional overlays with data on local zoning laws, soil quality, transit information, and funding restrictions. We can also upload higher resolution canopy and impervious surface data should it be available for your city or region.

We will incorporate additional information on health, water, temperature, wildfires and air pollution as it becomes available across the continental U.S. Unfortunately, much of the existing health data, including results from a recent study by the Nature Conservancy on the cooling and filtering effects of trees, is not geographically accurate enough to inform local planting decisions. That is to say data at the citywide or even zip code-level is not specific enough to help inform planting decisions at the neighborhood or street-level.

A screenshot demonstrating OpenTreeMap's modeling tool.

A sample tree-planting and the resulting ecosystem benefits projected over a 30-year period. We provide pre-set mortality rates based on tree species and size, that can be customization in the application.

A sample tree-planting and the resulting ecosystem benefits projected over a 30-year period. We provide pre-set mortality rates based on tree species and size, that can be customization in the application.

Once you’ve identified the optimal planting locations, you can model the outcome of your trees over time. Understanding tree growth and mortality rates can help inform management and allows you to demonstrate the long-term environmental and economic benefits of your tree plantings over a 30-year period.

We are in the final testing stages before making these tools available on the OpenTreeMap platform. Initially, the tool will only be available within the continental U.S., however, we plan to incorporate additional customization options including the ability to upload datasets to support groups outside the U.S.

In addition to OpenTreeMap, there are two other tools you use to help you prioritize plantings: iTree Landscape and the Trees and Health application. The U.S. Forest Service’s iTree Landscape helps you identify specific planting locations using land cover and census demographics, and explore existing canopy and ecosystem benefits. The Trees and Health application organized by Portland State University and the U.S. Forest Service includes data on neighborhood vulnerability as it relates to air quality in fourteen U.S. cities. You can use the application to identify planting locations that impact tree canopy and public health.

For additional information on the new forestry modeling and prioritization tools, we invite you to watch our recent webinar. The slides from this presentation can be found here.

Want to get in touch? We’d love to hear your questions and feedback: opentreemap@azavea.com.

Building the Best Technology for the Longterm Monitoring of Urban Trees

A tree-lined street in Philadelphia's Fairmount neighborhood.

A tree-lined street in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood.

Trees in urban settings play a vital role in our communities. Whether newly planted or decades old, urban trees provide crucial environmental, economic, community, and aesthetic benefits. A healthy urban forest can assist with stormwater mitigation efforts, shade buildings to save energy, beautify neighborhoods, increase property values, positively impact human health, and encourage community members to spend time outdoors.

A new report prepared by Azavea for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the USDA Forest Service Philadelphia Field Station explores how technology can be used to support the long-term systematic monitoring of urban trees; assist with tree planting and maintenance data processes; and enable data to be organized and shared between researchers and practitioners. Growing a vibrant urban forest requires maintenance, stewardship, and the regular planting of new trees.

Planting campaigns by governmental, non-profit, and community groups have resulted in millions of young trees added to cities throughout the U.S. in recent years. While many of these new trees are catalogued and counted as part of the planting initiative, less data is available about urban trees as they grow and die.

Information about stewardship activities such as pruning, watering, and planting site improvements is also seldom tracked consistently after trees are planted, despite research demonstrating that such activities may directly impact the health and growth of the tree. Long-term monitoring data related to urban tree health, growth and mortality rates, and longevity is useful to urban forestry professionals, scientists, and local community groups for four key purposes:

  • Gathering tree growth, mortality, and health data for planting programs as a means to evaluate performance, inform program management, and adapt practices over time
  • Coordinating community stewardship activities to encourage tree health and survival
  • Understanding how urban forests change through time in terms of population dynamics, including growth, mortality, and species diversity
  • Generating empirical data for use in accurately projecting urban tree populations and the related future estimated ecosystem services in order to demonstrate the value of planting campaigns toward environmental targets and goals

As part of long-term monitoring, it is essential to track longitudinal data about the same individual trees and planting sites. However, that process can be time-intensive, require extensive staffing resources, and result in large amounts of data that may be difficult to organize and quickly access or search. To increase the amount of available empirical data, it’s crucial to explore how to use technology to accurately gather tree data over time using field crews with varying levels of experience and then manage that data in a way that enables sharing information between groups. Through interviews with researchers and forestry practitioners, the authors built a list of the system requirements for an ideal software monitoring system, and evaluated 11 of the existing software platforms including OpenTreeMap.

The OpenTreeMap iOS and Android applications are designed to allow for easy data collection and query in the field.

The OpenTreeMap iOS and Android applications are designed to allow for easy data collection and query in the field.

While developing software that meets data collection and management needs is a critical first step, caring for urban trees is a collaborative task. As non-profit groups, municipal foresters, researchers, student interns, citizen scientists, and others work together to grow and maintain our urban forests, technology can be a valuable tool to assist in gathering data, coordinating management and planting activities, and demonstrating the economic and ecological value of trees. The report advocates for continued innovation in urban forestry data monitoring and technology development to support collaboration among between the many individuals in involved in tracking tree health, growth, and longevity.

Improving the process of long-term tree monitoring is essential for creating high-quality data that can inform adaptive management decisions, guide future planting initiatives, and assist with research on understanding how urban forests change through time. By providing opportunities to share that data more widely, organizations can learn from other programs and work together to build stronger urban forests. We’re excited to be part of the ongoing conversation on how software can assist with long-term tree monitoring, and welcome your feedback and experiences using the tools available.

Parts of this post were republished with permission from the report, Data Management for Urban Tree Monitoring – Software Requirements.

Uncovering the actionable insights in your tree inventory

We’re excited to see more organizations and municipalities across the country incorporate tree inventories into their urban forest strategic plans. To get the most out of the data you collect in the field, we recommend first identifying your inventory goals. Are you trying to calculate the impact of a program’s ecosystem benefits for grant reporting? Want to track maintenance activities and estimate maintenance costs? Looking to better understand your inventory’s biodiversity to protect against widespread pests and disease? All are important reasons to complete a tree inventory, and will determine what data you collect and in what format.

In many ways, once the tree inventory is completed the work to increase canopy coverage, perform routine maintenance, plant trees in empty planting sites and remove dead trees has just begun. We’ve outlined some easy search queries you can perform to identify the actionable insights hidden within your tree inventory data.

Dale Carlon inventorying trees in the field.

Dale Carlon inventorying trees in the field.

Take Dale Carlon, an OpenTreeMap client and consulting arborist in Reno, Nevada. Dale and his team at Dale Carlon Consulting, Inc. provide clients with comprehensive tree inventories that help them identify hazard trees, allocate resources, maintain key infrastructure and keep residents safe. Dale creates an OpenTreeMap for each homeowners association (HOA) he inventories so his clients can easily update information, budget resources and track maintenance activities.

A map of one of Dale Carlon’s inventories. The map allows property managers to easily identify trees of interest, estimate maintenance costs and plan maintenance activities.

With our new advanced search filter, Dale can search by any custom field he has created. In seconds, he can drill down to the 183 trees – of the nearly 7,000 trees at the HOA depicted above – that are dead or dying and require removal or the 208 trees that have between ¾ and 1 ½ inches in sidewalk damage. With this information, Dale can estimate the costs of required maintenance for his clients and the property manager can require all maintenance work to be logged in the field using OpenTreeMap’s mobile applications. This way, the HOA’s inventory stays up to date and maintenance is tracked and stored on the same place as all other tree information. Technicians see their location on the map, can easily identify the tree of interest and upload photos to create a pictorial timeline of maintenance completed.

Tree People LA uses custom fields to track and report on specific tree planting initiatives.

Tree People LA uses custom fields to track and report on specific tree planting initiatives.

Many of our nonprofit clients must report to funders on ecosystem services, trees planted and volunteer engagement. By creating a custom field for a specific planting program, a non-profit organization like TreePeople LA can quickly identify the 18 plants mapped so far as part of their City Plants program. These 18 trees alone bring over $700 in total annual benefits.

At OpenTreeMap, we will work with you to refine your data collection methodology so you can easily identify and analyze key information of interest. Planning an inventory this Spring? Let us know how we can help. Already have existing geo-coded inventory data? Send it over and we can upload it into OpenTreeMap and bring your tree inventory to life.

Recorded Webinar: Growing Your Urban Forest – Using the OpenTreeMap Bulk Uploader

On Thursday, April 16, we hosted “Growing Your Urban Forest – Using the OpenTreeMap Bulk Uploader,” a webinar on using the bulk uploader tools to import existing tree inventories and customize the species list on your tree map.

Every OpenTreeMap subscription includes access to the tree inventory and species import functionality at no additional charge. By uploading existing tree inventories and a custom species list, your tree map can become the place for users to update previous tree records, view inventories from a variety of organizations, search for trees using a species list that aligns more specifically with the trees in your region, and more.

As part of the webinar, we explored how:

  • Map owners can upload existing tree inventories and species lists
  • Uploads can be customized to meet the needs of your organization
  • Importing inventories can assist with collaboration between groups and encourage additional data collection

A recording of the webinar is available below and on YouTube. We’ve also made the slides available on Slideshare. If you have any questions, please contact us at opentreemap@azavea.com. We hope you can join us for a future webinar!

 

What’s the Science Behind Green Infrastructure Tracking in OpenTreeMap?

When it launched in early 2014, TreeMapLA became our first OpenTreeMap site to support tracking green stormwater infrastructure (also known by the acronym “GSI”, not to be confused with “GIS”!). 26 GSI features – or as TreePeople decided to call them on their map, “Watershed Solutions” – have been mapped on TreeMapLA so far, including rain gardens, rain barrels (otherwise known as cisterns or tanks), and turf/concrete reductions. These 26 features offer over $5,000 a year in savings to Los Angeles from water conservation and reduced stormwater runoff. The capability to map and track GSI features isn’t automatically available in every OpenTreeMap, however, because the scientific calculations used to generate the environmental and economic benefits of the features often require customization for each map. So what’s involved in adding green infrastructure tracking to your OpenTreeMap site?

i-Tree Streets Climate Zones map

Thoroughly researched i-Tree Streets Climate Zones cover the entire US.

The value of trees in reducing stormwater runoff and encouraging water filtration and conservation is well documented and researched. Based on research by the US Forest Service and the publication of the resulting data and algorithms in the public domain i-Tree software suite, we built our own open source tree ecosystem benefit calculation system for use in OpenTreeMap. A user can start an OpenTreeMap site anywhere in the continental United States, add a tree with info on the species and diameter, and instantly have access to the same peer-reviewed ecosystem benefit calculations as they would if they conducted an analysis project with the i-Tree Streets desktop software. For maps located outside of the continental US, such as yegTreeMap and Ecology Ottawa, we can work with a map owner and enable benefit calculations based on an approximate i-Tree Climate Zone for their area.  We have always been proponents of open data at Azavea, and OpenTreeMap is an example of exactly the type of innovation supported by open data.

Unfortunately, there is no equivalent, comprehensive “i-Tree-like” software or data we can use to support GSI benefit calculations anywhere in the country. Calculating the environmental impacts of GSI can be just as complex as calculating the environmental impacts of trees. Green stormwater infrastructure can be built for many reasons, including capturing rain and stormwater for use in building and irrigation systems; infiltrating it back into the ground water supply; and preventing it from taxing traditional “gray” infrastructure like sewers and water treatment systems, where it can also be contaminated before reaching our rivers, lakes, and streams.

So to calculate the benefits and impacts of GSI at a basic level, one needs to know how much stormwater a particular location receives! There are numerous climate regions in the US, all with different levels of annual rainfall and precipitation. Different microclimates might even exist within the same city. At a minimum an OpenTreeMap site tracking GSI features would need to draw upon a GIS data layer of precipitation levels in the geographic area covered by the tree map as well as unique  parameters and values based on the type of GSI feature (rain garden, rain barrel, green roof, etc).

At a more complex level, different types of land use (commercial and residential zoning areas, for example) might have different water usage patterns and thus benefit more or less from GSI features like green roofs or rain barrels. Some jurisdictions, like Philadelphia, may offer billing credits for green stormwater infrastructure features. The existing amount of impervious surfaces (like concrete or asphalt) in a community and the value placed on removing them might also be a factor to be considered. Finally, the impact of different types of GSI features varies based on how large a catchment area they serve, the tank storage capacity, or other design factors.

In building TreeMapLA’s watershed solutions feature, we were fortunate to work with some very smart people – our partner Kelaine Vargas of Urban Ecos, and Edith de Guzman, TreePeople’s Director of Research – to design a calculation system that took into consideration these many factors.

TreeMapLA's calculated watershed solution benefits.

TreeMapLA’s calculated watershed solution benefits.

Together, we were able to develop and integrate into TreeMapLA calculations for stormwater runoff (gallons and dollar value) and water conservation (gallons and dollar value) metrics for three different types of “watershed solutions” (rain gardens; rain barrels, cisterns, and tanks; and turf/concrete reduction projects).

Process of adding a Watershed Solution on TreeMapLA.

Process of adding a Watershed Solution on TreeMapLA.

When a user visits TreeMapLA to add one of these watershed solutions, the software guides them through a several-step process to determine and collect:

  • the type of solution
  • the location of the solution (which is connected to info on annual precipitation)
  • for rain barrels, the capacity in gallons of the barrel
  • if applicable, the catchment area or area of replaced turf or concrete associated with the solution
  • if applicable, whether the area was improved with plants and other materials that consume less water
  • if applicable, whether an irrigation system for the area existed, exists now, or was improved for efficiency
  • if applicable, whether excess runoff flows to impervious or pervious surfaces

Based on this data, OpenTreeMap decides to apply one or more equations developed by TreePeople to calculate the amount of reduced stormwater runoff and/or reduced water usage. A flowchart of this process and equations is available here.

“We embarked on this project with the purpose of benefitting other OTM users,” says TreePeople’s Edith de Guzman. Because of this preliminary work with TreeMapLA, any OpenTreeMap.org map can support green stormwater infrastructure at significantly less cost than was required to implement it the first time.

While it requires a bit of extra thinking, it’s absolutely possible to track the impact of green stormwater infrastructure projects using OpenTreeMap.. You could choose to base your map’s calculations off of TreeMapLA’s, or we’re happy to discuss other calculations suitable to your community. We’re also very interested in supporting other types of green infrastructure features such as green roofs, bioswales, and more. Let us know if you have a GSI feature you would like to track.

Even if OpenTreeMap isn’t exactly right for your GSI project, Azavea also has a broad base of expertise in other types of GIS tools and spatial analysis projects related to stormwater and watersheds. We’d love to hear from you!

A Streamlined “Add a Tree” Process in Yesterday’s New OpenTreeMap.org Release

Azavea practices Agile/Scrum software development, and our Civic Apps team (which works on OpenTreeMap.org among our other civic software projects) organizes work into 2-week Sprints. Accordingly, every couple of weeks we test and release to production a new set of features and enhancements to the OpenTreeMap cloud platform. Yesterday was one of those deployment days, with a new version of the software behind OpenTreeMap.org going live to all our users!

Sometimes, complex features are “in the works” for several Sprints in a row before they are released; often though, new OTM releases include smaller enhancements and bug fixes. Over time, these smaller improvements can add up to be quite significant. And these continuous releases of new enhancements are a key advantage of Software-as-a-Service (“SaaS”, aka “cloud”) offerings like OTM, ensuring our users always have the latest version of the software.

The Civic Apps team has been working for a while now on features both small and large related to adding green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) support to the OTM platform.  The recently released TreeMap LA and our fabulous client TreePeople‘s goal of tracking green infrastructure in the Los Angeles area has been a key driver of this recent push for us. Trees are already “green stormwater infrastructure” because they infiltrate water and reduce stormwater runoff load.  But we’re extending OTM to support other GSI, such as green roofs, bioswales and rain gardens.  In this release, one of the small enhancements we’ve pushed live is a redesigned, three step, multi-panel “add a tree” process. This new multi-step design paves the way for us to also add in the workflow for users to add GSI elements like green roofs in an upcoming release. See what I mean about small improvements adding up quickly?!

If you have access to your own tree map on OpenTreeMap.org, or if you live near Los Angeles and want to add some trees in your neighborhood on TreeMap LA, here’s a run-down of the new workflow!

Step 1: Set the Tree’s Location

The first panel in our new three-step add a tree workflow.

The first panel in our new three-step add a tree workflow.

Read more …

Open Data from OpenTreeMap: Visualizing temporal data with CartoDB’s Torque

I just wrote up a meaty Labs post on my idea to visualize tree, species, and user edits over time within exported data from PhillyTreeMap.org, and already covered all the joining, formatting, converting, and uploading necessary to get to this point, along with some simple visualizations at the end. If you haven’t read it, go ahead. I’ll wait here. Because with this post I’m diving straight in to the temporal visualization features of CartoDB’s Torque.

Briefly, though, to reiterate: What are my goals for visualizing the 2 years of PhillyTreeMap user edits over time? I wanted to create something parallel to Mark Headd’s homicide data visualization (also done with Torque) but that told a story over time that was more uplifiting. (What’s more uplifting than trees?) I also hoped my visualization would give us a rough idea of what neighborhoods and areas around Philadelphia have the most active PhillyTreeMap user edits, as well as what times of year seem most active. One could use that knowledge to determine and plan where or when to do outreach about PhillyTreeMap or the programs of our partners, like PHS Tree Tenders. What neighborhoods don’t have many user edits? When does participation drop off? On the flip side, where and when are urban forestry efforts succeeding in engaging the community? A time based spatial visualization can help us answer those questions – and look really cool in the process!


Read more …

Open Data from OpenTreeMap: Visualizing tree data with CartoDB

Update 12:30pm, 8-16-2013: CartoDB is working on a fix for the WKT issues I stumbled upon in this blog and tweeted a workaround. Thanks Javier!

Many months ago, after the City of Philadelphia released some of its Part 1 Crime Incident data on OpenDataPhilly, I read a blog post by our very own Chief Data Officer Mark Headd where he visualized 6 years of homicides in the City of Brotherly Love on a temporal map using CartoDB’s Torque library. While the story the map tells is an important one, it is also depressing and sad – every second, as you watch, more dots appear on your screen representing way too many homicides in our city.

Mark Headd's Philly Homicides animated map

Mark’s map showing locations of homicides over time in Philadelphia. Click the image to see the animation.

I was talking with a friend outside Azavea about Headd’s visualization, and posed a question: “What positive, uplifting change over time in our city could we tell the story of?” I sometimes get the feeling that so much data and visualizations of it are negative or otherwise shock us: from our struggling education system, to stolen bikes, to the disparate impact of voter ID laws. While visualizations like these uncover important stories to tell, so much sad news (for me at least) can sap my motivation to help fix it all. We need to visualize the good and give praise for what’s working, as much as we should analyze the bad and criticize what still needs to be done.

Hearing my frustration, my friend asked, “What about tree plantings or something?”, I assume without even realizing the connection she had just made in my mind.

Of course! That’s it! I happen to work for Azavea, where we craft OpenTreeMap, the best open source public tree inventory software around! I knew I could easily export data from PhillyTreeMap.org for almost two full years worth of ongoing, crowdsourced tree inventory and edits to the map in Philadelphia. We know that having more green, leafy trees and nature around make people happier psychologically, increase property values, clean our air and water, and save electricity and our environment. This was going to be a fun project.

Read more …

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