Displaying all posts with the Environment 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.

How to Incorporate Natural Disaster Preparedness into your Management Plan

A tree-lined street in Philadelphia.

Each year, millions of urban trees are destroyed by storms and other natural disasters. With urban populations on the rise and the increasing role of climate change in natural disasters, it is critical that communities prepare for extreme weather as it relates to trees and green infrastructure. Preparing involves not only implementing effective mitigation strategies, but also developing response and recovery plans.

Take 2012 Hurricane Sandy, the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, and the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. The hurricane affected 24 states and the devastation was widespread. Trees were especially vulnerable in regions not accustomed to storms of this magnitude. Nearly 20,000 public trees in New York City were destroyed in the wake of the hurricane, which amounts to more trees lost in the city than in any other storm for which tree damage was documented. The NYC Parks and Recreation Department estimated tens of thousands more trees were flooded, left partially uprooted or otherwise compromised in ways not visible to the naked eye. For years following Sandy work was still being done to clean up downed trees and replanting efforts continue into present day.

Communities with more advanced urban forestry programs typically have complete tree inventories, tree canopy goals and management plans to help sustain the tree population. These core components provide a solid foundation for developing hazard mitigation and response plans in the event of a storm or other disaster. There are many different strategies for reducing both the damage and costs associated with natural disasters without taking down trees. In fact, during most storms with winds below 40 mph, trees in good condition are a net benefit and help moderate climate extremes. We’ve outlined some key considerations and proposed actions below.

Mitigation

Trees down on West 90th St. in New York during the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Robert Caplin

Trees down on West 90th St. in New York during the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Robert Caplin)

We recommend implementing practices that reduce the potential for damage including annual inspections, structural pruning, selective removal and planting site-appropriate trees based on species, condition and location. These types of proactive management activities help communities more easily identify high-risk trees as part of day-to-day operations.

Tree inventories and canopy analyses are an important tool for communities to collect and manage data on the urban forest. Not only do inventories provide a baseline of tree and planting site-specific data, they can help communities identify mitigation strategies to improve resilience. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) developed the iTree software to provide communities with a free tool for analysis and benefits assessment of the urban forest, which along with OpenTreeMap represent two of the inventory mapping solutions available today.

Additionally, many communities have development hazard mitigation guides. For example, New York City’s Emergency Management Department compiled a guide that outlines key features of the city’s risk vulnerability, assesses a range of hazards (i.e. flooding, earthquakes, water shortages, strong windstorms and the pandemic flu) and presents strategies for managing risks associated with those hazards.

Pre-Planning

While no disaster is the same, communities with post-disaster recovery plans and established contracts for required work can begin recovery efforts more quickly. Pre-planning ensures there is a process in place for debris estimation and management, hiring of contractors and restoration. By identifying and prioritizing the areas that present the highest risk – power lines, public rights-of-way, high traffic areas – cities can focus limited resources on work that will have the greatest impact.

Utility companies can also play a critical role by creating a Vegetation Risk Management Plan (VRMP), to ensure public safety, maintain optimum urban tree canopy, promote tree health and decrease emergency management costs.

Disaster Response

Over 300 trees were lost after Hurricane Sandy in Central Park in New York City.

Over 300 trees were lost after Hurricane Sandy in Central Park in New York City.
(Source: A Walk in the Park)

After Hurricane Sandy, New York City’s first priority was to clear trees from highways and streets to provide access to fire trucks and ambulances. Only after roads were clear did tree crews turn their attention to city trees that collapsed on houses and other buildings. Though some of the fallen wood was in good enough condition to be repurposed into building materials, much of it was shredded into mulch in an effort to expedite cleanup and avoid spreading invasive insects.

Less than a month following the Hurricane and ensuing northeaster, more than $12 million had already been spent on tree clean-up. Tree debris can be one of the most expensive aspects of storm response and if not addressed immediately can leave a community with even more expensive restoration costs. It’s important to note that costs can be exacerbated by unnecessary tree removal following a storm and by risks associated with damaged but not fallen trees.

A woman photographs a downed tree damaging several cars after Hurricane Sandy made its way through Brooklyn, New York. (Source: EPA)

A woman photographs a downed tree damaging several cars after Hurricane Sandy made its way through Brooklyn, New York. (Source: EPA)

The American Planning Association (APA) recommends developing a process for assessing debris with emergency management personnel to ensure the debris and wood residue is managed for its highest and best use. The APA also advises communities to require tree risk assessors during emergency response and recovery operation to have additional qualifications beyond those qualifications required for general pruning and removal contractors.

Post-Disaster Recovery

Crews from all over the country came to New York City to help remove fallen trees. Pictured here a crew from Gainesville, Florida clears a property in Queens. (Source: NYTimes/http://nyti.ms/2cDUymj)

Crews from all over the country came to New York City to help remove fallen trees. Pictured here a crew from Gainesville, Florida clears a property in Queens. (Source: Marcus Yam, The New York Times)

Hurricane Sandy marks the first time forest systems in the northeast experienced saltwater flooding. The long-term effects of both flood and structural damage are not always immediately visible. In New York City, for example, the parks department inspected inspected nearly 48,000 trees in flood zones in the spring following the storm. More than 6,500 trees showed signs of stress and abnormal leafing and another 2,000 were presumed dead; these trees were completely healthy the previous year.

Disaster recovery does not happen overnight and longitudinal studies are important to determining a storm’s long-term impact on the tree population. As recently as this year, NYC Parks is exploring whether stress on trees from saltwater damage left them more vulnerable to other pests and disease, including a fungal growth recently found on many London Plane trees. Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, state officials are partnering with municipalities to distribute free seedlings to replace trees destroyed in the hurricane.

Conclusion

Trees are a form of green infrastructure, and like all other city infrastructure they provide value to residents in this case in the form of environmental, economic and social benefits. However, unlike other infrastructure, trees grow over the course of many years yet can be destroyed in a single event. Furthermore, healthy trees increase in value with age. That is to say, as trees grow the ecosystem benefits they provide including improved air quality, reduced stormwater runoff and carbon dioxide removal increase. The increase in value of a tree overtime makes regeneration a critical issue following a natural disaster.

In order for the urban forest to be adequately addressed in disaster management and recovery, it needs to be a local priority. Education and community engagement at the local level further support the mitigation of urban forestry related hazards. Communities must also advocate on for increased funding and attention for urban forestry-related issues at the state level, as states ultimately are the primary decision maker in matters related to hazard mitigation.

Has your community experienced a significant storm or other natural disaster? What were some of your biggest challenges? We would love to hear from you and give people the opportunity to learn from your story.

Trees, You, and the Urban Heat Island Effect

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and across the country people are headed outside with shorts, sunscreen, towels, and coolers to mark the start of summer. As temperatures rise, you may be taking steps to keep cool like cranking your AC unit or bringing out a box fan. The summer heat can be brutal no matter where you are, but if you live or work in a large city, you may be facing higher temperatures due to a phenomenon called “the urban heat island effect”.

What is the urban heat island effect?

In cities with populations of 1 million or more, the annual mean air temperature can be 1.8-5.4 °F higher than the surrounding countryside. At night, temperature difference between urban and rural areas can be as much as 22°F apart. Man-made materials such as concrete and metal hold heat and and repel moisture. In the summertime, conventional rooftops may be up to 90*F hotter than the air temperature, and pavements may reach 120-150°F. When many buildings are placed together, an urban heat island is formed.

Heat islands are not only uncomfortable, they are harmful to people and the planet! Energy usage goes up as we try to stay cool. This energy is usually produced from fossil fuels that increase pollution and greenhouse gases. Higher temperatures increase reactions with chemicals found in industrial emissions, car exhaust, and other solvents to create ground-level ozone, which exasperates health problems like asthma.

How can cities combat the urban heat island effect?

There is no single solution to the urban heat island effect. Sustainable energy sources, better building materials, and green design can all help—but in our biased opinion, trees are one of the best answers.

If you’ve ever searched a parking lot for a spot under a tree, you know that shade can make a drastic difference in the heat. In fact, 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. Of course, there are many other benefits trees provide as well, such as raising property values and improving air quality. Planting trees is one of the best ways individuals and communities can address the problem.

Before heading out to buy a tree, however, we advocate contacting a local organization that can help you choose the correct tree and correct planting site. Many trees are placed too close to buildings for their adult size and have to be removed. Other times, trees are ill-suited to the soil and environment and fail to thrive. Your local forestry community can provide you with the resources to make the best choices, and they may even provide or plant your tree for free!

Stay cool this summer.

 

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 …

Sign Up

Want to Try OpenTreeMap?

Create an account in less than two minutes and get a one-month free trial of OpenTreeMap Cloud. It's that easy.