Understanding human relationships with urban forests in cities: being a better roommate.

Greetings! My name is Angie, and I am a postdoc researcher working in the Natural Assets team on the Rogers 5G Smart Campus research project. I am excited to be hosting this blog, where I will talk about cities, nature, technology, smart cities, data, sustainable urban design, forestry, big data, remote sensing… and the kitchen sink.

I’m going to start this blog with a fact: Humans have an indispensable relationship with nature in cities. 

I know that this relationship can seem somewhat quiet. On most days, your friendly neighbourhood cedar tree may seem like a silent, wall-flower roommate. Yet, there are moments when our codependency with nature is unavoidably blatant. Those smoky summers where you can’t go outside on the hottest day of the year? Or days spent in isolation to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic, when close contact with other humans was a public health risk? Who was your bestie then? Who kept you company when you went for solo walks along the shore?

That’s right, my friends. Your friendly neighbourhood cedar is not a wall-flower any more!

Even though, at times, nature comes in second to the other things we do in a day, the truth is we are much more interconnected with city greenery than we may realize. Our lives depend on this connection. Literally. And this relationship is particularly tenuous in cities. 

Truth is, people are often not super-supportive roommates. In cities, things like construction, pollution, industrial development can be pretty crummy if you are a tree. Research has even found that small human disruptions in nature can make a tree’s life more difficult than it needs to be. Things like trampling and compacting important soils for tree growth, or bringing new invasive species to delicate ecosystems, can make humans seem like bullies in this so-called ‘friendship’. And yet, greenery in cities makes us happier, and healthier. 

Our research team is pumped to learn more about this codependent relationship. And we are equipped with some cool tech, some big data, some nifty sensors and a bunch of strategies to figure out what we can do to make this cohabitation situation better. 

Our project, supported by Rogers and their 5G network, will explore ways to monitor urban forests and ecosystems, as well as understand how much people really benefit from nature in our cities, so that we can make better decisions (for us, and our friends…the trees) moving forward. Plus, let’s be honest.  The situation is literally ‘heating up’. Protecting, supporting and being a good roommate with our green roommates may actually become essential for our survival (or at least our wellbeing). Stay tuned, friends, for future posts and musings, where I share the work of our team and others as we navigate the future of natural assets in cities.

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