The Importance of Urban Forests

Now that we’re almost five weeks in, we thought it would be a good time to briefly discuss why we’re using data science to maintain Atlanta’s urban forest. Cities tend to suffer from a phenomenon called urban heat island effect, where the city or metropolitan area is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas. This is due to many reasons including a larger presence of materials that absorb heat, like dark roofs and asphalt, hindered air movement, and an increased amount of car exhaust. One way to mitigate the effects of heat islands is to plant trees within the city. The relationship between trees, temperature, air quality, noise pollution, etc. is a complex one, but important to understand. The Effects of Urban Trees on Air Quality provides a good introduction to the topic.

Progress Update

Initially we were hoping to produce an application for Trees Atlanta that would allow them to locate precise planting locations without having to go into the field. However, the resolution of our data is by parcel, which limited us to various sizes of land instead of exact locations as we had hoped. We are considering impervious surface cover (sidewalks, driveways, buildings, streets, etc.) and tree cover. By focusing on parcels with low impervious surface cover and low tree cover, we can likely identify potential planting areas.


For the City of Atlanta, we have been working on a map of densely forested regions ripe for conservation. It was surprisingly challenging to visualize contiguous sections of land that are made up of more than one parcel; however, we were successful in the end. The City of Atlanta can use this information to locate possible wildlife corridors within the city. Eventually, we would like to combine the work we have done for Trees Atlanta and the City into a single interactive application so they can continue to learn from the data with minimal support.

The visualization of the trees in Atlanta is shaping up nicely. It is fully functional, and includes a breakdown by genus and by year. Sanat is currently working on adding cultivar and species information as well. In addition to the map, we have a breakdown of tree population and composition by neighborhood planning unit (there are 25 in Atlanta), for an easy comparison of tree diversity across the city. This piece is still in the design phase. Everyone’s pretty excited at how these visualizations are turning out.