Author: Tony Hirst

Giving trees the open data treatment

Updated Tuesday, 18th June 2013
Discover some unlikely open data releases that are opening up opportunities for innovation and adventure around our towns and cities.

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Leafy green autumn trees in Greenwich Royal Park London

A short piece in the latest episode of our coproduced Route 66 of the future series with the BBC World Service Click radio team hears from Drew Hemment, CEO of Manchester's FutureEverything digital festival and innovation lab as he mentions some of the unlikely open data releases that are opening up opportunities for innovation and adventure around our towns and cities.

What particularly caught my eye ear was his mention of datasets recording the location of city centre planted trees and how the availability of such data in San Francisco had led to the creation of tree-based walks around the city!

Being of a curious frame of mind, I popped my data sleuth hat on and had a quick scout around for the data... A web search for "open data" "san francisco" brought me directly to San Francisco's open data site (San Francisco Data) and a search for "tree locations" turned up the data - the Street Tree List.

The dataset includes a list of trees with information about the species, the planting site and planting date, who's responsible for the maintenance of the tree, and, of course, the location.

Not having visited the site before, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it provides tools for working the data, including a map generator.

If we zoom in on the map we can see down to individual street locations. We can also use the filter view to view the locations of particular sorts of tree - how about Cherry Plums? Or maybe we could filter on the date planted column to find trees that were planted in the year, month or even on the day of our birth, or other notable family anniversary, to get a feel for the measure of the same time in tree years?

While the San Francisco open data site provides information about trees maintained by the Department of Public Works, another San Francisco initiative - the Urban Forest Map - appears to be trying to crowdsource a richer dataset that documents every tree in San Francisco, along with its species, height, diameter, plot size, planting date, and once again, location.

Recent years have seen a steady increase in the number of crowdsourced data collection apps, from pothole reporting applications to the OU's iSpot nature spotting guide, through things like the mappiness happiness app and the Waze travel report collecting app, which also happens to be mentioned in this week's episode of Click. I'm still not sure we know what to do with all the data yet?!

Quite by chance, this wasn't the first treemapping app I'd seen this week (what a quirky life I appear to lead). This week also saw the launch by the OU and a range of other partners of Treezilla that allows you to log (doh!) the location and details of any trees in your local area of the UK.

The design of Treezilla bears an uncanny resemblance to the Urban Forest Map, and indeed a look at the logos suggests that both sites are powered by the same underlying technology - OpenTreeMap.

And what of open tree location data published by UK councils? Is that available at all?

Indeed it seems there is - in some council areas at least... Including Trafford Council, just outside Manchester. I wonder if FutureEverything had anything to do with that?




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