Displaying all posts in the Featured category.

Community Engagement in Action: A conversation with Greening of Detroit

We recently caught up with the Greening of Detroit to learn how they successfully plant, map and care for thousands of trees each year. In their early days of operation, the Greening planted five to ten trees per event. Over the past two decades, these small planting events have turned into a well-organized operation involving thousands of volunteers, many more thousands of trees and a team of dedicated staff. There are many facets to the Greening’s success, but we wanted to share our five key takeaways.

A strong municipal partnership

The Greening has developed a successful partnership with Detroit’s Forestry Department giving the organization the requisite permits and some financial assistance to fulfill their mission. When they were founded in 1989, the City of Detroit was losing hundreds of thousands of trees to Dutch elm disease, urban expansion and attrition. At the same time, budget cuts forced the city to allocate most of their urban forestry budget towards the removal of hazardous trees. With little money leftover for plantings, they turned to the support of local organizations.

What started as an informal agreement was formalized five years ago when the Greening secured a blanket permit to plant trees along the public right of way. Since then, they’ve been working closely with the City to identify and plant approved species in areas most affected by removal. By engaging volunteers, the Greening can avoid the high labor costs associated with planting and caring for trees to multiply the impact of their investment in urban forestry.

Attention to the details of the volunteer experience

From its inception, the Greening has been committed to providing folks from all walks of life a meaningful volunteer experience. Over the years, they’ve developed relationships with groups – from large corporations to Girl Scout troops – who all share a commitment to giving back to the community.  They take a systematic approach to communicating key information in advance and scheduling the volunteering event to maximize productivity so a lot of the work is done behind the scenes before the day even begins.

Source: The Greening of Detroit

Source: The Greening of Detroit

A commitment to stewardship

The organization is committed to the long-term health of the trees they plant. To reduce tree mortality, the Greening of Detroit cares for trees for the first three years following planting. During the summer, they employ high school students into their youth workforce development program, Green Corps, to water tens of thousand of trees, and maintain city parks and greenways. The 1,600 students that have been involved in the program since inception have also participated in workshops sponsored by the organization on topics like financial literacy, conflict resolution and resume writing.

Source: The Greening of Detroit.

Green Corps getting ready for a day tending to more than 12,000 trees planting by the organization. Source: The Greening of Detroit

Engagement at the local level

Through their Community Planting program, the Greening engages block clubs, schools, faith based and other non-profit organizations in planting events. OpenTreeMap makes it easy for the Greening to showcase the ecosystem benefits a community will garner after a planting event.  An interested group, in conjunction with Greening, works with other local organizations to garner support for plantings among residents. They solicit guidance from residents insofar as where to plant the trees and residents serve as volunteers for the event itself. Following the planting event, the community takes on the responsibility for watering, weeding and mulching the tree for at least three years.

A commitment to data collection

By collecting data on all aspects of their programming, the Greening can improve the volunteer experience and measure their impact. After an event, each volunteer completes a survey, which helps Greening understand which events had the highest satisfaction rates and why. With this information, they can estimate the number of volunteers needed based on trees being planted and better cater the event to the group of volunteers. Additionally, the Greening requires their growers tag trees with genus and species information, making it easier for volunteers to accurately map trees in the field using OpenTreeMap’s mobile application.

The Greening of Detroit has mapped over 15,000 trees on their OpenTreeMap.

The Greening of Detroit has mapped over 15,000 trees on their OpenTreeMap.

The Greening of Detroit didn’t always map their trees. For years, they used a database to track the addresses of plantings. A few years back, the Greening was looking for ways to better engage the community in their planting efforts and to educate citizens on the ecosystem benefits of trees. After researching different mapping solutions, they decided on OpenTreeMap. It was the only platform they found designed specifically for community engagement, and it’s intuitive user interface made training volunteers easy.  They geocoded their address-based inventory and used OpenTreeMap’s bulk uploader tool to add past tree plantings to their map. The Greening of Detroit has over 15,000 trees which equate to more than $85,000 in ecosystem benefits on their map.  

Think we missed a key component of a successful volunteer program? Interested in starting your own OpenTreeMap? We’d love to hear from you!

Join us November 11 to discover OpenTreeMap’s new Green Infastructure module

Do you wish you could map more than trees? As climates change and regions face severe heat, drought, and weather events, more organizations are promoting innovative techniques to harvest rain water, prevent stormwater runoff, and conserve water in general. OpenTreeMap can assist with managing those initiatives by tracking the location of bioswales, rain barrels, and other water conservation features.

We hope you’ll join us for a webinar on Wednesday, November 11 from 2-3pm EST to discover the new OpenTreeMap Green Infrastructure module.

Deb Boyer, OpenTreeMap Project Manager, will be joined by Philip Silva, Co-Founder and Co-Director of TreeKIT, to discuss how Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal Conservancy uses OpenTreeMap’s bioswale tracking features to fulfill their mission of increasing environmental stewardship.

During this webinar, you will learn:

  • How OpenTreeMap can be used for gathering and maintaining data related to rain barrels, bioswales, and other features
  • How you can increase public education of the benefits of green infrastructure resources
  • How you can promote installation and stewardship of green infrastructure resources
Space is limited. Click here to register and secure your spot today!

Five Best Practices for Bringing Together Stakeholders in Urban Forestry

For over 188 years, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has been a leading voice in urban agriculture and community forestry. Their longevity is due in large part to excellent volunteer recruitment and retention—what began as a group of 80 farmers, botanists, and horticultural enthusiasts has grown to a fanatical base of over 23,500 members. The secret to their success? Collaboration. By taking a humble but pragmatic approach, PHS has positioned themselves at the center of an ever-evolving system of stakeholders spanning local government, private sector partnerships, and state and national networks. They’ve done this by allowing their volunteers and partners to take center stage in everything they do. Below are five ways that Pennsylvania Horticultural Society sets the standard for collaboration in urban forestry:


  1. Always Remember: Everything Starts with Volunteers

PHS runs a community forestry educational series around the Philadelphia area called the Tree Tenders Program. Open to both PHS members and non-members for a fee of $25 (which barely covers the food and t-shirts that trainees receive), prospective tree tenders receive expert instruction from licensed arborists, plant pathologists, agricultural extension educators, and city administrators. Over the years, 3,000+ concerned citizens have graduated from Tree Tenders training, each with a firm understanding of the tangible benefits of the urban forest and the tools to care for it responsibly. The Tree Tenders program is a microcosm of PHS’s commitment to collaboration—non-profit partners, city liaisons, university staff, and local small businesses are all represented among the many presenters who are given the rare opportunity to hold the floor with a targeted audience of 50+ concerned citizens. Partners get exposure and borrow authority from PHS, while PHS gives their volunteers access to high-quality educators and hands-on experience.

The same citizens who are engaged in their communities enough to seek out Tree Tender training are the ones who vote. So just how influential is PHS’ reach in the greater Philadelphia community? Let’s take the example of the 2007 Philadelphia mayoral race: while environmental justice had never figured prominently in prior elections, suddenly all five democratic candidates were jockeying for who could promise the most tree plantings. First, two candidates promised they would plant 23,000 trees…then another promised 50,000…and not to be outdone, a fourth promised a whopping 100,000 trees over the next eight years. The final candidate simply promised to plant, “as many as we possibly can.” Previously, PHS had drafted environmental policy documents and met with candidates, and the announcements were conspicuously made around the time of PHS’s annual Philadelphia Flower Show. And while politicians making campaign promises may seem inane, what actually happened afterwards is the truly shocking part—eight years later, the mayor’s office is on track to have planted 300,000 trees, three times the amount even the most ambitious candidate felt comfortable promising.

  1. Become an Extension of Local Government

Influencing public policy doesn’t mean much if you aren’t willing to help with the execution. Mayor Nutter, the candidate who won the 2007 mayoral race mentioned above, launched the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to advance Philadelphia’s environmental goals. One of the offshoots of that office is TreePhilly, an initiative under Philadelphia Parks and Recreation—they are directly responsible for providing over 15,000 free street trees to Philadelphia residents and for pruning another 10,000. These services seem in direct competition with PHS’s policy of providing free trees to approved Tree Tenders groups across the city, but in fact, they are complementary. While PHS works to expand the footprint of their tree tending groups, many neighborhoods (especially in the center of the city) remain unrepresented. Residents of these neighborhoods who reach out to PHS are handed off to TreePhilly, who will provide 1-2 free yard trees. In this way, PHS’s community outreach activities actually work to strengthen the city government’s own tree planting initiatives, and Philadelphians find access to free trees universally accessible, either through their neighborhood tree tending group or directly through the city.

  1. Think Outside of Your City

The Plant One Million campaign has become one of PHS’s most highly touted initiatives, which is actually a tri-state partnership across non-profits in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The initiative has already accounted for over 470,000 combined tree plantings, spurred by an effort to raise the cumulative tree canopy cover of the 13 counties around Philadelphia to above 30%. Working across state borders with both the New Jersey Tree Foundation and the Delaware Center for Horticulture, PHS not only opened new channels for exposure to a broader community and access to sponsors they might never have been able to work with otherwise, they also were able to expand the scope of their tree planting goals by pooling resources and coordinating events across several invested partners. For an organization headquartered in Philadelphia for the better part of two centuries, PHS has shown a willingness to open their programming and initiatives beyond the borders of the city that birthed them, and has consistently found ways to collaborate with bordering counties and communities in ways that inevitably enrich the resources they are able to offer to Philadelphia residents.

  1. Offer Local Businesses Something Valuable

One of the secrets to PHS’s success is the way they conceive of local businesses. It’s often tempting to simply approach companies asking for sponsorships and ad placements, selling them on corporate responsibility and goodwill. But the strongest partnerships go deeper than a logo at the bottom of a pamphlet—PHS brings local businesses into almost everything they do, and not just as sponsors. For instance, Bartlett Tree Experts, one of the largest landscape management companies in the country, is a longtime partner of PHS. Yes, they sponsor initiatives like the Plant One Million campaign and the annual Flower Show. But they also volunteer their time at events and train Tree Tenders. And it’s not just goodwill: let’s say for instance that it costs Bartlett about $60/hour to send two of their best arborists out in the field. Well if those arborists spend an hour at a Tree Tenders event showing 50 volunteers the right way to prune their trees, and that turns into just one $2,000 job…well Bartlett just made about 16x their investment. You get the point.

  1. Always Buy in Bulk

While regional partnerships and relationships with local businesses have expanded the scope of PHS’s initiatives and helped them garner exposure with new audiences, national partnerships have (somewhat paradoxically) allowed them to offer more value internally—to their members and volunteers. PHS’s McLean Library is a cardinal example of this principle. While the library boasts over 10,000 physical titles in circulation, they have been able to add thousands of digital resources to their collection by joining several national consortiums. PHS members also have access to collections from botanical gardens in New York, Missouri, and San Francisco, as well as national agricultural libraries. By finding groups with aligned interests and goals on a national scale, PHS is able to dramatically supplement the resources they can offer members at minimal cost. For non-profits large and small, it’s always easier to take advantage of economies of scale by partnering for content than it is to try to carve out resources in isolation.


(Free) PHS Resources

  • Over 200,000 trees and planting sites logged to date

PHS regularly contributes lists of newly planted trees to be added to the map

[1] http://articles.philly.com/2007-04-28/news/25241260_1_mayoral-candidate-candidate-forum-neil-oxman

Why Are Trees Important?

A few days ago, my colleague Karissa Justice wrote about the urban heat island effect. In her article, she reminds us that “shade can cut surface temperatures by 20-45°F. Strategic planting around buildings to shade windows and roofs can make a big difference in temperatures and energy consumption.” Have you ever had a hard time explaining the importance of urban trees and the importance of your organization’s mission? Take a look at this video and feel free share it broadly. As part of a larger community of tree lovers, we’d love to see the public help you map every single tree in your community; not just street trees but those on private land too. One tree at a time, we can all make our urban forests stronger!


Love and Share Your Trees With Social Media Friends and Followers

Want to tweet about stewardship activities or pruning you just did on the large maple tree outside your office or post a photo on Facebook of the gorgeous oak tree in your backyard, and share the love you have for the trees you care for with your friends and followers on social media?  Now you can!  We are pleased to announce that you can now use Twitter and Facebook to post all your favorite trees to your heart’s delight.  Below is a GIF showing how to use the social media features in OpenTreeMap.

Enjoy and spread the word about your urban forest and all you do to care for it through your favorite social media networks!

Social Media


Upload your Trees into the Cloud for Free

We are happy to announce the newest feature for OpenTreeMap: the Bulk Uploader.  Sign up now and upload your whole inventory into the OpenTreeMap cloud for free and start your community engagement today!



New Clients and Free Trial Maps from All Over the World

The past year has been a year of growth for the OpenTreeMap community. We saw the additions to the community from the West Coast of the United States to the beautiful northern country of Canada. OpenTreeMap continues to gain interests from many different organizations from government and businesses, to non-profits and schools.  We welcomed yegTreeMap in Canada; Wheelock College in Boston (private map) that started using OTM as an education tool; Let’s Green Vizag to jump start a tree counting campaign in India; Seattle Tree Map to track birds living in trees; and even a map in the Czech Republic being used by ArboKohout a professional tree care consulting firm.  We were thrilled to also welcome over 50 free trial maps from places as varied as Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa, Zambia, Portugal, Spain, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Israel, Russia, Poland, France, Ireland, Latvia, Netherlands, Sweden, Cambodia and many others.


Another new member to the OpenTreeMap community is Ecology Ottawa. Ecology Ottawa is located in the capital city of Canada where the wellbeing of the urban forest  is an important focus for community engagement initiatives. Ecology Ottawa is a non-profit organization that promotes environmental causes throughout Canada and the world. They hold national and local governments accountable towards the care of the environment. Canada is home to a number of urban forest leaders and Ecology Ottawa is in the midst of promoting the urban forest.

In 2013, Ecology Ottawa launched Tree Ottawa, an initiative to protect, plant, and promote trees across the City of Ottawa.  They’re working with local schools, community associations, corporations, charities, and citizens to plant one million trees in the city for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017. A big part of their initiative is encouraging residents to join their Adopt-a-Tree program. The average lifespan of city trees is only seven years, but with a little extra care they can survive a lot longer and even mature up to twice as quickly.

After doing some research, they began using OpenTreeMap Cloud in 2014. They think it is a great tool to engage their supporters, and allow them to identify and share with the community the trees they have adopted. Community members can adopt trees already imported on the map by editing the custom Adopted field, or add trees of their own.

The ability to add stories and pictures, along with the Ecosystem Benefits calculator, really demonstrate just how important trees are to the community. The good people at Ecology Ottawa told us they are really looking forward to upcoming features like social media sharing and additional customization to get even more supporters involved in new and exciting ways!

We value community members like Ecology Ottawa. They help us improve OpenTreeMap for everyone. We support all their efforts in adopting trees and helping to promote their campaign to plant one million trees by 2017. Check out their map and if you live in Ottawa go out and adopt a tree and add more trees to their map by downloading the OpenTreeMap Mobile app  or by creating an OpenTreeMap account  at www.opentreemap.org.

We are looking forward to welcoming new members to the OTM community in the coming year as we continue to improve OpenTreeMap to make it the best tree mapping software to engage and educate members of our communities about the importance and values of the urban forest in fun and innovative ways.

Thank you Ecology of Ottawa for your contribution to the article.

November 12, 2014 Webinar: Learn How to Engage new Audiences in Urban Forestry!

There is still time to reserve your seat for the November webinar. Click here to register.

The webinar is Wednesday November 12, 2104 at 1:00pm EDT

Andrew Thompson (OpenTreeMap), Erica Smith Fichman (TreePhilly), and Lee Mueller (Friends of Grand Rapids Parks) will talk about three outreach events our organizations have done in urban forestry, and discuss tips and tricks your urban forestry group can use with your events and marketing to expand to new audiences. During this webinar, you will learn about:

  • A general framework for organizing events and campaigns geared toward exciting audiences and communities with little experience with urban forestry
  • Pointers, tips, caveats, and potential downfalls to keep in mind to organize a successful event
  • “Lessons learned” from three specific case studies organized by a government, nonprofit, and commercial company

You can try what TreePhilly and Yards Brewing Company did a few months ago as they celebrated the First Annual Philadelphia Arbrew Day, an evening of beer, trees, tees, and freebies to get their community members involved planting trees.

Arbrew Day


August 12, 2014 Webinar: Mobile Citizen Science – Gathering Urban Forestry Data via the OpenTreeMap Apps

Reserve your webinar seat today for Mobile Citizen Science – Gathering Urban Forestry Data via the OpenTreeMap Apps.

Space is limited.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT

Learn how mobile apps can provide new opportunities for supporting citizen science and exploring the urban forest.

OpenTreeMap lets you collaboratively map the trees in your community. As part of an OpenTreeMap subscription, organizations can use the OpenTreeMap iOS and Android apps to encourage people to gather data out in the field using their smartphone devices.

We’ll discuss using mobile apps for data collection, and Danny Carmichael from TreePeople will also join us to describe how they are using mobile apps and tree mapping events to add data to their TreeMapLA website.

In this webinar, we’ll discuss how:

– Mobile apps can encourage participation in citizen science
– OpenTreeMap uses mobile technology
– TreeMapLA has developed mapping events and the lessons they have learned

Register today to secure your seat.

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