Unveiling green hidden treasures: back-yards host most of urban trees

Authors: Dexter Locke*, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), Alessandro Ossola, Centre for Smart Green Cities, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Sydney, NSW, 2109, Australia, Brenda Lin, CSIRO Land and Water Flagship, Aspendale, VIC, Australia, Emily Minor, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois Chicago, 845 W. Taylor St., Chicago, IL 60607-7060, USA
Topics: Geographic Information Science and Systems, Urban and Regional Planning, Spatial Analysis & Modeling
Keywords: Urban forest, tree canopy cover and height, socio-ecological systems, private gardens, big data, urban ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Congressional A, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In many urban areas, residential properties make up most of the land area, contain most of the tree canopy, and most of the planting opportunities for additional tree canopy. The sub-parcel scale of variation may have important implications for biodiversity, heat island mitigation, and other benefits of urban trees. However prior field-based studies are limited in gaining access to thousands of private properties. A unique front/back sub-parcel GIS dataset of ~180,000 residential properties in the Boston region is ideally suited for analyzing remotely sensed data on tree canopy cover and structure. We found that most of Boston’s tree canopy was located in backyards overall. Back yards had significantly more tree canopy, taller trees, and greater volume, a pattern that was consistent when parsing by household type (ie single, double, and triple-family homes) and across architectural building styles. Backyards contained ~23% of Boston’s tree canopy, while the right of way contained far less (~11%). A Morphological Spatial Pattern Analysis revealed that open spaces had the most connected canopy cover (~23% of canopy cores), followed by back yards (~14% of cores); front yards and rights of way contained only 3.75% and 4.45% of canopy cores. Backyards are nearly twice as important as the right of way and open spaces in terms of canopy spatial connectivity. Future research needs to explicitly account for sub-parcel variation in tree canopy cover and structure to improve estimates of social and ecological benefits of forests across cities.

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