Now Streaming: Chicago’s Urban Forest Metrics

Chicago Urban Forest Tree app

“My City’s Trees,” allows users ranging from backyard gardeners to city planners and policy makers to explore data associated with Chicago and other cities in the United States.

Urban trees cool cities and clean the air, and the number of urban trees and where they are matter. As part of the Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis program of the USDA Forest Service, Chicago is now one of a growing list of cities where anyone interested in urban forests can use an application called “My City’s Trees” to explore where trees are, where they aren’t, what kinds of trees are growing, and a plethora of other forest metrics. 

“My City’s Trees,” developed through a partnership between the Forest Service and the Texas A&M Forest Service allows users ranging from backyard gardeners to city planners and policy makers to explore data associated with Chicago and other cities in the United States using various spatial themes such as surface temperature, NLCD Land Cover and a Social Vulnerability Index.

Urban areas in the contiguous United States occupy 2.7 percent, or 60.2 million acres, of the land base and contain nearly 81 percent of the U.S. population. Healthy urban tree canopy and sustainable urban land management can help mitigate the environmental impacts of urbanization, and an understanding of the amount of urban forest, the species of trees it includes, and how urban forests change over time is important to managing them. The Forest Service’s Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis program was designed to deliver this information to cities and communities throughout the nation. 

 “My City’s Trees is an important step to understanding and managing our cities’ living infrastructure,” said Mike Brunk, Illinois Urban and Community Forestry Administrator. “Knowing what we have, where we have it and how it is changing provides invaluable resources for communities to live, breathe and grow. The viability of our cities and communities in which we live has direct correlation with our health and the health of our human environment. The study of our urban canopy and the ability to see and compare tree/city relationships will be an invaluable tool to assist people, leaders, and policy makers, in pursuing growth, longevity and harmony for our living infrastructure.”

While the Forest Service will ultimately publish reports on the Chicago urban forest inventory, releasing data via the My City’s Tree application makes information available to all of the community’s urban forest stakeholders more rapidly. The application allows users to learn about the important services trees in their own city provide including:

  • Numbers of trees by species and other attributes;
  • Urban forest carbon stocks and leaf biomass;
  • Compensatory values, which are estimates of the value of the forest as a structural asset, meaning a compensation amount for the physical loss of the trees;
  • Residential energy savings due to tree shading and microclimatic effects of urban trees (currently in development);
  • Surface water runoff that was avoided because of urban trees; and
  • Air pollution removed by trees, plus the economic value of avoided human health impacts from pollution removal by trees.

In addition to adding beauty, neighborhood trees moderate air and water pollution, reduce heating and cooling costs, and provide shade and shelter from hot summer sun. Healthy trees can provide wildlife habitat and improve real estate values. Research is showing that trees improve mental health, strengthen social connections, and reduce crime rates. The My City’s Trees application helps users investigate the impacts and benefits of trees in their own city and others across the nation.

“The Forest Inventory & Analysis Program is continually improving our data collection, analysis and delivery methods,” said Mark Majewsky, the team leader for the Urban FIA program. “My City’s Trees is a big step forward in delivering information that people can use in making a whole range of decisions, from which tree to plant in the front yard to justifying the expenses associated with urban forests.”

The Chicago Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis (UFIA) data will provide continually updated information about changes to the city’s urban forests, directly supporting local programs such as the Chicago Region Trees Initiative while also adding to the base of knowledge about urban forests across the United States. Currently, 40 cities are participating in Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis program, and the program aims to include more than 100 cities, allowing for a strategic national inventory of urban forests.

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The mission of the Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation’s surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).