A small courtyard is nestled behind the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, just outside the Cube Cafe at the heart of the University of Toronto’s St. George campus.
The pocket, essentially just an oasis of concrete slab, is brought to life by a trickling fountain and a cluster of trees jutting out stubbornly from stone.
The ensemble make up but a tiny portion of Toronto’s street canopy, a swath of urban green peppered across the city’s sidewalks and alleyways that sits at about 600,000 strong.
While the city keeps, or tries to keep, accurate data on each tree’s location, the error-ridden information is made available to the public through a dense series of reports and data jargon.
“So you had data availability versus data accessibility,” says Mathew Brown, A University of Toronto researcher focused on climate science and computer programming.
“I thought it would be neat if I could combine my background in climate change science with web development and data visualization.”
Thus, Brown began the process of mining the City’s tree data and plotting it on to a web page for the general public to use and enjoy. He posted the result, Toronto Tree Map, on Reddit a few weeks ago and immediately sparked a strong response from Toronto’s environmentally conscience and tech-savvy community.
“Tree’s have lots of value, they absorb CO2, they absorb air pollution, they regulate temperature, it can be used as an educational tool and to make sure people are aware of the value of trees,” says Brown, who hopes to eventually add an eco-impact calculator to the page alongside the geographical data.
While the site is currently mostly built on imperfect city reports, and thus far from perfect, Brown has added features which allow users to make corrections, hoping to one day have a site supported by a community working towards a more accurate and comprehensive map.
“It’s still in its infancy,” says Brown who hopes to adopt some open source code from a similar San Francisco project in the near future, including a functioning app users can use to plot and tweak the data
“I always wanted to see what people would do with the site,” says Brown “I’m happy to let people figure it out and add features.”
While a strong urban canopy plays a role in the global well being of the climate, Brown is quick to point out local and more immediate benefits of developing a strong relationship with Toronto’s trees. Things such as the ability to emphasize biodiversity found in native trees as oppose to imported cousins, and general immediate differences in air quality.
“I know when I bike to work everyday along Lakeshore I go through that area with no trees,” says Brown “It’s more dusty then when I go through the areas with trees.”
Dylan Freeman-Grist is a staff writer for Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.