Using existing data to tackle big urban forest questions: Introducing Sophie

Credit: Sophie Nitoslawski

Did you know, you can actually visit many city websites and download data about all the street trees in your neighborhood? So cool. But if you are like me, you will wonder about the real potential for this data and how it can help cities deal with problems like climate change.

Sophie is a PhD Candidate in Urban Forestry within the Department of Forest Resources Management. She is also my colleague in the Natural Assets team on the Rogers 5G Smart Campus research project, and devout lover of the tulip tree. Her research involves investigating the intersection between smart cities, digital technologies, and urban forest management. A paper she co-authored uses data that is already collected by cities. It provides a way to capitalize on this existing, hard-earned resource by offering a standard way (and open source github!) to compare tree diversity across many cities. This is especially helpful for cities dealing with climate change where it can be difficult to understand the long term effects of climates that haven’t previously existed in a particular region. This tool and approach can also help cities gauge how well they are doing against other cities. Because who doesn’t love a little healthy competition! 

As Sophie and her co-authors report, tree diversity is important for urban forests to be resilient. Variety among tree types also makes urban forests provide a wider range of services to people: like a range of shade on hot days, or better filtering of polluted air. Some neighbourhoods have diverse trees and others may have more uniform urban vegetation. This paper examines these trends and how they relate to other important values. The analysis process that Sophie and her team present here can be replicated by any city, because all data and software are openly available. Having research like this can excite cities about the prospect of open data on trees, provide tools for them to use it, and generally encourage the open data initiative.

Imagine a day when we could replicate this analysis for hundreds of cities. THis could result in a much clearer picture of urban forest quality and quantity, and be a jumping-off point for global reporting into the future. One day, we may even have a telling and powerful metric, the international “Global State of the Urban Forest” measure, that inspires and informs future policy and strategies. 

Follow Sophie as she continues to work with and for municipal practitioners to integrate digital technologies in practice. She aims to enhance the delivery of services (particularly the benefits from green infrastructure) to citizens. She promises to continue to think critically about our relationship to urban nature, especially as we continue to use more and more technology. If you can’t find her, Sophie is likely to be found learning about trees, writing about trees, climbing trees, and most definitely hugging trees!!! 

Scroll to top