On April 24 – Arbor Day – NYC Parks announced the launch of TreesCount! 2015, the Parks’ initiative to map and catalogue every street tree in New York City using a web application we developed here at Azavea. Thousands of tree loving New Yorkers will use the TreesCount! 2015 site and the companion Treecorder application to gather information on over 600,000 street trees located throughout the five boroughs. We’re thrilled to be part of this huge citizen science and urban forestry project!
Since 1995, NYC Parks has gathered data on every street tree during a decennial street tree census. In previous counts, the data gathering has been paper-based, but Parks’ staff hoped a web-based system would enable “voluntreers” to use their smartphones and tablets to log tree info in the field and immediately add it to a central database. Such volunteers and the community groups who also partner with the Parks’ staff are essential to gathering millions of pieces of high-quality data in just a few months.
Our task was to build the web application that would enable volunteers to learn more about the census, sign up for mapping events, and log data about the trees while also providing NYC Parks with the tools to review data and coordinate mapping activities. The resulting TreesCount! 2015 software is an application that includes:
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- A map to view the ongoing progress of the census
- A training system to provide users with the info they need to accurately gather tree data
- Group and event pages where volunteers can learn about community organizations and RSVP for tree mapping events
- A reservation system for checking out block edges for mapping
- The Treecorder application for entering data about each tree
- Administrative tools to ensure the census includes trees in all parts of the city and results in accurate data
The location of each tree is one of the most crucial pieces of data. Having correct geographic coordinates can help NYC Parks understand the current street tree inventory and plan the location of future plantings. While there are various methods for identifying tree location (GPS coordinates, site codes, addresses, etc), TreesCount! 2015 uses a mapping method developed by TreeKIT, a non-profit group focused on community involvement in urban forestry. The TreeKIT method is based on centuries’ old surveying techniques. Volunteers select a block edge segment and then use a measuring wheel to accurately log the distance between the block intersections and the tree locations. The Treecorder, the mapping portion of TreesCount!, translates those distances into geographic coordinates that correctly identify the tree’s location. Fields tests have demonstrated that this approach was far more accurate than using the GPS in a phone or other location assignment approaches.
In addition to location, volunteers are also gathering data on species, tree size, tree health, signs of stewardship, and other related information. NYC Parks will use this data to plan future street tree plantings, maintenance, and stewardship activities as well as calculate the environmental and economic benefits of the trees.
Registration is now open on TreesCount! and registered volunteers can begin their online training in how to gather tree data. Once that training is completed, a volunteer can register to attend a field training event held by NYC Parks or a community group and begin mapping trees. Dozens of community groups will be holding events throughout the summer all across the city. If you’re in the New York area, we hope you’ll sign up to become a TreesCount! 2015 volunteer. Mapping began on May 19 and will continue through the summer and early fall!