BY: PHILIPPE DE JOCAS
It’s no secret these days that you can find a comprehensive resource for just about anything. Websites, especially the “wiki” models in the vein of Wikipedia, crowd source information collection and archival. Outside of the usual nerd spheres who construct vast archives of data around sci-fi and fantasy, there are plenty of other and more specialized databases online.
One such endeavor was kick-started by researchers at MIT, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. Their project, “Treepedia,” maps urban canopies in eleven cities around the world. A difficult task? Not with Google. Whereas intrepid researchers would once have had to brave the mean city streets, pen in hand, Google’s Street View features allowed them to measure from afar. Counting trees allowed Treepedia to measure the percentage of each city’s area covered by canopy, and from there to extrapolate the percentage of visible area covered or partially covered by trees. How do Toronto’s trees stack up to the rest of the world?
Long story short –we’re doing pretty well. Toronto’s trees spread over 19.5 per cent of the city’s area. In terms of environmental status, that puts us ahead of famous cities like London, Paris, and even New York, Central Park and all. Treepedia aims to begin a conversation between these metropolitan areas, hoping to foster pan-city cooperation when it comes to the spread of cities and managing the tree growth within.
That said, we have a ways to go before Toronto can truly be considered an urban Eden…and there’s trouble in paradise. Toronto’s trees, verdant and numerous as they are, stand in a precarious position as Toronto continues to grow wider and denser. Pollution levels from cars, trucks, and construction must be carefully managed in order to give young and vulnerable trees a fighting chance to develop…or we’ll see, in the words of George Costanza, “significant shrinkage.”
More urgently, invasive foreign species such as emerald ash borers have spread across Canada and wormed their way into vulnerable young bark. Their activity displaces native species and threatens the health of Toronto’s trees and the ecosystem that they support. City planners and environmentalists have stressed the need for more “green infrastructure” plans, aimed at protecting and encouraging the growth of our urban forests. Lowering air pollution levels remains a challenge for Toronto, as it does in most major cities around the world. Green infrastructure plans entail opening up older and more densely-packed parts of town to make way for parks, greenways, and green mass transit systems like streetcars, which will better accommodate the needs of wildlife and the humans in search of relaxing green spaces. Perhaps someday we’ll be able to take what we’ve learned from urban forest management across the world and apply it to protect forests across the world from shrinkage