New York City may be famous for hosting more people than any other city in the country, with a population of more than 8.5 million, but it's also home to more than half a million trees - 656,134 trees, to be exact.
Unlike people, trees don't move around much and now, thanks to a new interactive map, unprecedented in its scale and encyclopedic accuracy, every single one of those trees can be located and identified with a few clicks or keyboard strokes.
The New York City Street Tree Map, launched late last week, offers anyone with a web connection instant access to data on any tree in New York City.
"This is the biggest and most robust online tree map anywhere," Jennifer Greenfeld, assistant Commissioner for New York City's forestry, horticulture, and natural resources, told Seeker. "The goal is to provide a way for people to understand the urban forest and to interact with it."
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People can type in any address in the city and up pops a birds-eye view of all the trees at that location and on that block. Tree species are identified with a color-coded system and the shape of each tree icon corresponds to the tree's trunk circumference.
A side bar offers an actual image of the tree from Google Street View and appearing below that image is a breakdown of that single tree's contribution to the city.
One can locate the Ginkgo biloba, for example, that grows in front of a certain presidential candidate's signature building - Trump Tower. According to the interactive map, that city tree intercepts 135 gallons of stormwater each year, contributing $1.33 in annual value. The tree's shade helps conserve 151 kilowatts of power every year, adding to $19.09 in annual savings. And it removes 37 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year for an annual cost benefit of 12 cents a year. That all adds up to a total annual benefit of $22 each year to the city and its residents.
"People don't always associate nature with cities," said Greenfeld, "but they're an integral part of the urban landscape."
In fact, a recent study by the Nature Conservancy found that an investment in tree planting of just $4 per resident "could improve the health of tens of millions of people" thanks to trees' ability to scrub pollution from the air and reduce CO2 levels.
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Other cities have conducted their own tree surveys, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. But the ground game involved in putting together New York City's interactive tree map was unprecedented.
The map was more than a year in the making and involved city employees and some 2,300 volunteers. To gather the data, a person walked every single block of the city pushing a wheeled tool that measures distance and maps locations of every tree on the block using GPS coordinates. Then every tree's circumference was measured and any information on the tree's health was noted and entered in the massive data base.
The interactive map is not static, but incorporates updates on trees' status, such as any sustained damage and when they were last watered or pruned by the city. Since the city's tree population continues to grow - NYC tree populations increased by 12.5 percent since the last census in 2005 - new trees are also added to the map as they're planted.
Residents can also use the map to solicit help from the city in caring for their nearby trees. Instead of having to explain to a city operator which tree needs help, people can enter any issues directly into the tree map and the parks department immediately knows what tree needs attention.
By directly connecting people to data about the trees they see daily, Greenfeld hopes the system will offer a direct link between New York City's human residents and its trees, which make up 21 percent of the city's land cover.
"Trees make up a significant proportion of the city," she said. "I believe if we can get people to notice the trees, you can go from noticing trees to protecting them."
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