Displaying all posts with the Data Visualization tag.

CITY OF TREES Film Tells the Story of Greening Efforts in DC

Washington Parks & People Executive Director Steve Coleman speaks with residents of Ward 8 in Oxon Run Park, Washington, DC in a scene from CITY OF TREES.

Washington Parks & People Executive Director Steve Coleman speaks with residents of Ward 8 in DC’s Run Park in a scene from CITY OF TREES.

Editor’s Note: We believe storytelling is a powerful tool for sharing the importance of maintaining, protecting and growing our urban forests. At OpenTreeMap, we’ve seen firsthand how storytelling can be used to recruit volunteers, garner support and secure funding. In addition to helping you manage your trees and green infrastructure, maps can help you tell your organization’s story. This month we wanted to share with you how one new documentary film is also working to share the story of urban trees and the people that plant and care for them. The following post is written by Lance Kramer of Meridian Hill Pictures. 

As documentary storytellers, we use film to share underrepresented perspectives, build empathy for people different from ourselves, and facilitate conversations about the complexities of the human experience. Our latest film CITY OF TREES is a story that challenges audiences to think deeply about the triumphs and struggles in making a long-term social impact within an environmental nonprofit.

CITY OF TREES follows the stories of trainees and staff in a stimulus-funded green job-training program, Washington Parks & People’s DC Green Corps, designed to put unemployed people back to work by planting and caring for trees in underserved communities in Washington, DC. The film follows its central participants navigating difficult issues: attempting to make change within a low-income urban community; fighting institutional poverty with short-term, non-renewable grant resources; creating environmental justice where it has been absent for decades.

In the process, CITY OF TREES thrusts viewers into the inspiring but messy world of job training and the struggles change makers face in urban communities everyday.

DC Green Corps trainee Michael Samuels and his mother Eleanor Barnett share the story of Michael's incarceration in a scene from CITY OF TREES.

DC Green Corps trainee Michael Samuels and his mother Eleanor Barnett share the story of Michael’s incarceration in a scene from CITY OF TREES.

Over the course of the five years we spent making CITY OF TREES, telling this kind of story required all parties — us as the filmmakers, the program staff and trainees, funders, and audiences — to embrace a certain unpredictability and complexity. Because our story centered on real people, we had to accept that any message about the impact of tree plantings or green job training would never be as tightly-crafted as a grant report or fundraising video. The goal of the film was not to solve unemployment or lack of canopy coverage in certain neighborhoods, but instead to explore the complexities that emerge when people with different backgrounds and perspectives work towards a common goal.

Stories that deepen public consciousness and promote productive discourse are increasingly important as cities become bigger and more diverse.

With nearly 50 screenings of CITY OF TREES at film festivals, conferences, nonprofits, universities, and public agencies last year, we saw how the film helped audiences develop a deeper understanding of the issues and possible solutions, and strengthen relationships with other stakeholders. At screenings we found that people have craved stories that seek deeper truths and raise hard questions.

Steve Coleman introduces a new cohort of DC Green Corps trainees in a scene from CITY OF TREES.

Steve Coleman introduces a new cohort of DC Green Corps trainees in a scene from CITY OF TREES.

We hope that when people watch City of Trees they’re able to draw connections to experiences in their own lives and step into the shoes of someone who is different from themselves. We also hope that the courage displayed by the people who shared their stories in CITY OF TREES — particularly the staff and trainees of Washington Parks & People — will help make it easier for others in urban forestry and environmental justice fields to think about the potential to use authentic storytelling in their own work. To help with this effort, we recently released the CITY OF TREES discussion guide which was made with support from the U.S. Forest Service. The guide is designed to help nonprofits facilitate dialogues around the film’s central themes: environmental justice, workforce development, community engagement and returning citizens.

It is more important than ever for people from all backgrounds to come together to confront some of our country’s most pressing issues. We hope through watching the film people can better understand the complex factors facing urban communities and engage in conversations that lead to positive change.

DC Green Corps community liaison James Magruder conducts outreach in DC's Oxon Run Park in a scene from CITY OF TREES.

DC Green Corps community liaison James Magruder conducts outreach in DC’s Oxon Run Park in a scene from CITY OF TREES.

Click here to find out how you can host a screening of CITY OF TREES. The film will also have its encore broadcast on PBS/WORLD Channel‘s America ReFramed on Tuesday, Jan. 17 in a lineup of films focused on the fights for income equality and racial justice.

For more information on accessing the discussion guide and Community Screening Kit, you can contact Lisa Allen at lisa@meridianhillpictures.comLance Kramer is the producer of CITY OF TREES and Executive Director of Meredian Hill Pictures.

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.

How to Geocode Address-Based Tree Inventory Data

TreePeople's OpenTreeMap.

Mapping your trees is the first step to making more informed urban forestry management decisions. Displayed here is a map of trees across Los Angeles County.

Tree inventory data helps municipalities create urban forest management plans, allocate funding and proactively manage trees to ensure their long-term health. Most tree inventory and mapping software platforms require data to be geocoded, yet many municipalities and nonprofit organizations only track the postal addresses of their trees.

In this post, we will outline how you can geocode your address-based tree data without an expensive geographic information system (GIS) or technical expertise. Geocoding refers to the process of assigning longitude and latitude information to addresses so they can be placed as points on a map.

Why geocode your address-based tree data?

Having address data on your trees is important in order to find the general tree location. We plug addresses, not coordinates, into our GPS in order to find a place. However, geocoded data is important for identifying trees once you’re at a specific location. In both urban and rural settings it is common to find multiple trees of the same species at one address, which can make it difficult to locate a specific tree without additional identifying information.

Not only do maps make it easier to locate a tree in the field, they also help us identify actionable insights and make more informed management decisions. Unlike a spreadsheet of tree data, a map of your trees can help you track the spread of pests and disease, visualize how mature trees are dispersed across your city and identify which areas have the highest tree mortality rates. Additionally, the more people involved in maintaining street trees, the more helpful maps are in coordinating volunteers and municipal employees, and updating key information.

After you go through the process of geocoding your address data, all trees listed at the same address will have identical longitude and latitude. You will need to update this data either in the field or using satellite data as a reference to reflect the exact location of a tree at a particular address.

How does geocoding work?

Most simply, geocoding is performed using a reference layer. The process involves matching the to-be-geocoded addresses from your spreadsheet to the street names and address ranges in a street network file. The system matches the street name in your spreadsheet to a reference table and map. Once the street name is matched, all address ranges for this street are examined to identify the specific segment of a street where the address is found. Since the geocoder knows the coordinates of the endpoints of each street as well as the range of street numbers for a given segment, the software can estimate the address coordinates. Most geocoding services place trees at the front and center of the parcel with the associated address. However, some more advanced services allow you to choose how far off the center point of the adjacent road you want to place a given point.

Once you have geocoded tree data you can upload your data to mapping platforms like Carto, QGIS or OpenTreeMap. Carto and QGIS are not industry-specific; however, OpenTreeMap was designed specifically for mapping urban trees and green infrastructure.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.00.57 AM

Texas A&M offers free geocoding services for up to 2,500 addresses.

Using Texas A&M’s Geocoding Service

We’ll walk through the steps for using Texas A&M’s geocoder, which allows you to geocode 2,500 records for free. There are numerous other services available, however, many require technical expertise and/or software licenses. Texas A&M’s geocoder allows you to upload a database (access file) or text file (csv, tsv) of address data to their website and generate latitude and longitude values. The system can geocode thousands of records in minutes.

Geocoding Instructions

  1. Create an free account with Texas A&M GeoServices.
  2. Navigate to the Batch Geocoding page of their website. Click “Start – Step 1>>.”
  3. Click “Add New Database.”
  4. Click “Upload New Database.”
  5. Choose the file from your computer and designate the type and click Upload. For this example, we used a comma separated values (.csv) file. Make sure to follow the file naming notes listed on their website and include column names in the first row of your spreadsheet or database.
  6. Once you validate that the geocoder can open and read your file, choose the columns from your file that want to process. The required fields (“Address”, “City”, “State”, and “Zip”) must be present in your database or file even if these fields are blank. The system will not process records without these fields present.
  7. Use the dropdown lists to identify the fields in your table that correspond to the input fields the geocoder expects to see. Make sure to only select each of your fields in a maximum of one dropdown.
  8. Choose your processing options and Click “Start Process.” Rather than wait to view your results you can opt-in to receiving status notifications via email. You will receive an email with a link to download your geocoded data once the process is complete.
Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.56.06 AM

A spreadsheet highlighting the four columns created after the geocoding process was complete for Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

In the spreadsheet above, we have highlighted the four columns added after the geocoding was completed. You can reference Texas A&M’s website for additional technical details on how the longitude and latitude results were generated and explanation of the values for the “MatchType” column. 

We took the newly geocoded data and uploaded it to the three aforementioned mapping platforms: Carto, QGIS and OpenTreeMap.

We mapped Rehoboth's recently geocoding trees using QGIS, a free and open-source desktop geographic information system (GIS) application.

First we mapped Rehoboth Beach’s trees using QGIS, a free and open-source desktop geographic information system (GIS) application.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.06.01 PM

Second, we mapped Rehoboth Beach’s trees in Carto, a cloud computing platform that provides GIS and web mapping tools for display in a web browser.

Rehoboth Beach trees plotted on OpenTreeMap.

Lastly, we plotted Rehoboth’s trees in OpenTreeMap, a cloud-based software for mapping and managing trees and green infrastructure.

The less accurate information you have on tree location, the higher the chance the wrong maintenance task is performed on the wrong tree. At best, this results in the misallocation of finite resources and at worst potentially removing an otherwise healthy tree. With geocoded inventory data you are on your way to making more informed management decisions that ensure you are allocating resources as efficiently as possible.

While it is much easier and less expensive to build a map with existing data that requires some modifications than reshoot your entire inventory using a GPS device, moving forward we recommend you use a mobile mapping application or portable GPS device so that you can capture detailed location information at the time of planting, and don’t have to rely on a third party to maintain your database. We also recommend checking and adjusting tree locations as part of routine fieldwork. 

Run into snags following our geocoding instructions? Want to learn more about different mapping options? Drop us a line at opentreemap@azavea.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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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