Characterizing historical urban canopy cover through a manual interpretation methodology

Authors: Marc Healy*, Clark University, John Rogan, Clark University, Deborah Martin, Clark University, Lara Roman, US Forest Service, Sabine Nix, University of Pennsylvania
Topics: Physical Geography, Urban Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: Urban Forests, Urban Tree Canopy Cover Change, Legacy Effect,
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban forests are typically studied through the lens of their current benefits, socioeconomic factors, and management policies—often overlooking the historical factors that have led to these conditions. Urban tree distribution, structure, health, and associated benefits reflect past state and city-level planting initiatives and management practices. Post-industrial cities across Massachusetts and broader New England, have lower amounts of canopy cover and fewer ecosystem services when compared to wealthier neighboring towns and cities. This study investigates the historical legacies of two post-industrial cities, Chelsea and Holyoke, Massachusetts, by analyzing the trends in tree cover change and distribution. First, this study uses manual interpretation methods for digitizing and evaluating tree canopy cover from aerial photos for years 1952, 1971, 2003, and 2014. Second, the time series of tree canopy cover will be put in the context of the relevant political and planning initiatives across this time period. This historical perspective will allow for enhanced understanding of the composition and structure of the urban forest. The study also demonstrates how historical canopy cover time series can be created and analyzed across long periods of time.

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