Open Data and Urban Forests: Crowdsourcing Tree Inventories to Support Municipal Urban Forestry

Authors: James WN Steenberg*, Dalhousie University, Peter N Duinker, Dalhousie University, Melissa Ristow, Dalhousie University
Topics: Environment, Urban Geography, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: Urban forest, open data, citizen science, crowdsourcing, inventory
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Bourbon Room, Astor, Mezzanine
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban forests provide an array of benefits to city residents, ranging from air pollution removal and heat island mitigation to improved human health and wellbeing. Municipal governments have the primary responsibility for the management of urban forests. However, municipal practitioners face many management challenges due to the complex, rapidly-changing, and vulnerable state of urban forests. One notable challenge is the frequent lack of sufficient data describing the state of the urban forest to inform decision-making. This is especially true for privately-owned residential properties, where most of the urban forest is situated. Government open data is a recent international trend, whereby governments – frequently municipal governments – are making their data publicly available without restriction. While a growing body of research has addressed the values of such programs (e.g., transparency, accountability), there is little-to-no research investigating practical applications of open data for urban environmental management. The purpose of our research is to explore the potential roles and barriers of open data for sustainable urban forest management. Preliminary results from semi-structured interviews with municipal practitioners suggest that they see value in public engagement that might result in stewardship actions being taken, while such initiatives might also be used to leverage municipal funding for urban forestry programs. However, they also recognize potential barriers around administrative burdens, data quality, and liability. Crowdsourcing tree inventories through open data programs could improve citizen engagement and help to better inform government decision-making in urban forestry, though continued research is needed to address and overcome these identified barriers.

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