Emerging Tech for Urban Forest
Hi everybody! My name is Dr. Nadina Galle and welcome to my lecture emerging technologies for urban forestry. Applying technologies for urban forestry and urban ecosystems as a whole, has been a huge passion of mine and luckily my job for the past several years. I conceptualized the concept internet of nature in 2018 and in 2018, I felt that after seeing the trends that we saw in green cities and the trends in smart cities I felt like there is not enough being done to bridge these two together. In fact, there were so many interesting technologies being
applied to the areas of mobility, waste management, even our lighting systems how we get around our system, even how we order our groceries, how we vote, how we deal with our health care. All these different aspects I felt like: why is ecology being left behind from the digital revolution? That was something that I wanted to change and I've done that by conceptualizing this concept of Internet of Nature. And Internet of Nature is the framework for being able to apply emerging technologies to map, monitor and ultimately, reconnect people to urban ecosystems. Now, I spread the word about Internet of Nature through my research practice, through teaching my students, through a podcast and through keynote speeches and a forthcoming book, and today what I want to take you through is, essentially, some of the most cutting edge examples of how we can use emerging technologies, specifically for the field of urban forestry. Now, urban forestry is something that's always been very near and dear to me, I got my PhD in something called Ecological Engineering, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like combining Ecology and Engineering, in my case technology, to essentially build and design and create spaces ecosystems for both people and nature. And when we talk about urban ecosystems, specifically
trees and urban forests are undoubtedly one of the most conspicuous elements of that ecosystem and that is why it's so important to not only properly manage our trees, but also be very intentional about where we plant them and how we would go about treating them throughout the duration of their lifespan. I want to take you through the first example and that is the terrestrial LiDAR-based mobile mapping to automatically detect trees. Tree-inventories are an essential part of an urban forest master plan. An urban forest master plan is absolutely critical to being able to understand which trees are where, so that you can essentially understand what you need to do when and a traditional tree inventory, when done manually, can take a lot of time, typically sometimes up to a decade, if you're looking at you know huge cities that have millions and hundreds of thousands of trees. So by the time
that you've mapped the first tree, that data is already really quickly out of date. Essentially, terrestrial LiDAR allows us to do it. LiDAR for those of you that don't know is a technology that works very similar to radar or like a dolphin's echolocation. Essentially LiDAR sends out a laser and it immediately counteracts whenever it hits something on a very fine fine scale.
Essentially, you get is you get a 3D model of everything that's happening around you and you do this from a mobile mapping approach, for example putting a LiDAR scanner on top of a car, you essentially get a 3D model of everything that's around you. There's a company in Amsterdam called Tree Tracker and what Tree Tracker has done is created an algorithm to essentially mask out everything that's not a tree and what you get what you're left with, is a 3D model of all the trees in your surroundings and that can be incredibly helpful to understand the location of the tree, the condition of the tree, the crown volume, the diameter of the trunk. These are things that, and I know this from doing it in the past, you have to guesstimate, you have to do your best, to basically observe these things in the field and being able to use this technology, offers us a way to get that data much more frequently and also at a much higher granularity and perhaps even at a much higher accuracy as well. Now, that can be interesting for being able to understand
which tree is where, being able to optimize your management of an urban forest, which of course is part of an overall sustainable city, but one of the things that we are structurally undervaluing is the benefits that urban forests offer us. Their software programs, that help us do this so there's a software program called iTree, iTree was developed by the USDA forest service and essentially what it does is it takes the values or let me put that a different way it takes the ecosystem services, that a tree might offer like for example, how much oxygen it produces or how much storm water it filters or how much carbon it sequesters or how much how many air pollutants it filters. It takes all of these things and essentially it assigns that service, that tree does a monetary value. Now, this iTree software can be incredibly effective for understanding
things like: what is the value of trees? If I remove trees in this development, what value am I going to lose? Those are incredibly important answers to have especially when it comes to building and shaping and planning the cities of the future, but the problem with the software like iTree is essentially that it's a model and it's a bit of a black box and your output is only as good as your input. But, if we can drastically, radically increase the accuracy of that input, that's going to mean that we have much better iTree output. Ultimately meaning that we'll be able to make much better estimations of what each and every single tree in that urban forest does for us. How much storm water does it filter? How many air pollutants does it filter? Much storm water does it intercept? How much carbon does it sequester? If we can hang a dollar value on these ecosystem services, we're going to be able to have a much easier job at filtering, sorry at understanding what this means for policy implications and shaping the systems the ecosystems of the future.
Now, a second technology is an interesting one: it provides you essentially with a way to communicate with trees and that technology is a very very simple one, in fact, it's an email address. Several years ago, the city of Melbourne had a problem. They were losing several several of their trees to drought. Now, this was of course a huge frustration, not only for the city government,
but for malvernians as well. They had a lot of questions about individual trees, for example when are you going to look at this tree, this tree looks sick, this tree looks unsafe when are you going to replace it? When are you going to save this tree? When are you going to come take a look at it? Citizens, understandably so had a lot of questions and the Melbourne's Department their office of urban ecology and urban forestry wanted to help their citizens as best as possible, but they only had one central email address, which was incredibly frustrating to try and understand which question went where. So, essentially what they did, is they offered a way to essentially, they assigned an email address to each and every single tree, to basically streamline that process, but what happened next, completely took people off guard. They actually ended up writing these trees emails, love letters, song lyrics, poetry, all different things to express their love and their appreciation for trees. So, what was initially meant as a technology to help inform the management of these trees, actually turn into a way for people actually to express their love and appreciation for trees and I love this example because it just shows that intrinsic love and want an innate desire to be with nature and to be amongst trees, was already there. Technology just needed to bring it out. I got the opportunity to be able to understand what the power of so-called talking trees could mean this past summer, when I was one of few lucky ones to actually be at the premiere of the Giants of North and a geofencing basically located audio tour of trees, talking trees in Amsterdam. I didn't do a good job at explaining that, so essentially what I mean
is in a traditional audio tour, you have to scan a QR code and it would start talking to you right. Now, what Big Van Dyke, the founder of this project called Giants of North or Elizabeth North in Dutch, what she wanted to do is she wanted to bring to light a lot of the stories around gentrification, changing neighborhoods, a post-industrial neighborhood, development. What that meant for the original inhabitants of the neighborhood of Amsterdam North? Those original inhabitants weren't the people, they were, in fact, the trees, and she felt like being able to create these talking trees, would provide people with a different mindset essentially, when they passed these trees because Amsterdam North despite it having a lot of these big beautiful mature trees is also the district in Amsterdam, which is losing the most trees. Now,
here I am, in this slide enjoying this audio tour with my family and essentially how this works is it was quite different, it was of course enabled by technology, but the point was not to be distracted by technology, that you could be fully immersed in this audio tour. So, the idea was is that it worked essentially using a technology called geofencing. And what happened is you would scan it. You scan the tour at the beginning and you would essentially have your headphones on, you'd put your phone away, once you press play, and from there you would be taken on this hour and a half walking tour of all these different trees that we're talking to you. So, you would have based
on your GPS location it would know where you are on the tour and you would get different audio cues to essentially be able to direct you in terms of which way to walk and which trees to stop at and which trees had a story and it was incredibly impressive, and I was already a tree lover, but to be able to experience this, I can tell you I will never ever ever look at these trees in the same way again it was incredibly powerful, way of using technology to facilitate a lot of these different feelings this innate love, that we have for nature around us. Now, second to last example that I want to share is this idea of building empathy, and I think that is such an important part of being able to understand what nature means to us, that nearby nature that nature at our doorstep means to us and what we need to do to ensure that we are taking the best care of it. And one of the ways to ensure that we're taking the best care of it, is to ensure that we get people on board, that we get that buy-in and that can be a difficult thing to do in the city, most children that are growing up in cities today: do not have a lot of so-called nature exposure and I think you know how can we possibly, how we possibly believe that we are going to be raising the next generation of environmental stewards if we do not provide children and adolescents with the opportunity to experience that wonder in nature and that understanding of nature? And I truly believe and there's research also to back this up, the more understanding you have, the more empathy you are going to feel and the more likely you are, to actually protect that thing that you feel empathy for which in this case is urban nature. Now, there is, when it comes to building empathy again it's based on that understanding and one of the technologies I'm most excited about in this space is the use of flora and fauna identification apps, so I want to hone in on seek for a minute here. Seek is the app developed by iNaturalist, a global citizen science
community, that I'm sure many of you are familiar with, and essentially what seek does is it uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to be specific, to essentially be able to identify many many many, not every, but getting there, species of plants, mushrooms, trees, flowers, snails, turtles, squirrels, if you're fast enough to get one on camera. All of these different kind of species of different marine species, all of these different species and across these different kingdoms, essentially be able to identify them, and what that does is twofold: on the one hand, we are building towards that creation of empathy. So, Seek, this app by iNaturalist, is used often in scavenger hunts with children in cities and in fact it's actually used as part of the city nature challenge, which is a core challenge that iNaturalist, the community around it, puts on every single year in the last weekend of April, so it's coming up, and essentially what it does is it encourages citizens to go out and document as much wildlife as they can in a short amount of time, and essentially this does is yes, we're building empathy, we're creating these experiences, where people can go out in nature and understand and learn about it. But, at the same time, every single time, one of those photos is taken, we are essentially creating a geotagged moment in time of that species and that in turn, is creating arguably, the world's largest biodiversity, big database and that big data that biodiversity big data, is exactly the kind of data that we need to be able to answer some of the most pressing issues that we have around the effects of climate change in our cities, it can help us answer questions like: which species is going extinct where? Which species of flower are blooming earlier than other species? Which invasive species have popped up? And which species have perhaps got away? Which species have been conservation successes? And which ones have been failures? We have a lot of big questions when it comes to climate change and its impact on the wildlife in cities and this kind of data, can help us get there and allow us to crowdsource it in an effective and scalable way, while engaging and educating the public. Now, the last example I want to take you through
is the use of high resolution satellite imagery and a whole host of other different technologies that are in this space. Now, we know now that nature is medicine. In fact, there are some 1000 peer-reviewed articles, that back up this link between being out in nature and having, having a positive materially profound impact on our human health and well-being, on a physiological level on a psychological level and on a cardiovascular level, there is an incredible amount of benefits of being out in nature offers us. In fact, it's been so well recognized, that there are now programs, which actually prescribe nature to patients. So, patients that are dealing with obesity, anxiety, depression, whatever it might be, there actually programs now, which prescribe nature to these patients. In the Netherlands we have a program called natural recept, which literally means park's nature prescription and in the States you have the prescription for Parks program and these are incredible programs, but you know is it not medical malpractice to then, just say you know go it for nature, go out into nature you know 30 minutes twice a week. A doctor would never
prescribe you a bottle of pills and said: "yeah take one when you feel like it". That's not how medicine works, so we need to do a better job at deciphering what it is exactly on an individual level, because the future of medicine is personalized, on an individual level, what is the dose of nature that people need? There's a company out of Oregon in the U.S called Nature Quant, that I recently started working with, and Nature Quant essentially what they've done is they have gone ahead and they've combined Google Street View, tree data, satellite imagery, aerial imagery, drone imagery, LiDAR imagery, which we discussed at the top of the lecture, and all these different data sources whether that's air pollution, light pollution, noise pollution, all these different data sources essentially to combine them and come up with what's known as a nature score and based on that nature score using your GPS location, the Nature Dose app can actually track your aggregated time, inside outside and how much time of that you've been exposed to Nature. Now, that is an absolute technological breakthrough because what that means is we're going in the midst of different clinical trials right now, we are going to be able to essentially, have direct correlations between time outside, time exposed to nature, your nature dose and all these different biomarkers that we're tracking. And ultimately, what I hope that this leads to is that we're going to be having health insurers and fitness apps, they already provide you rewards based on your steps and your heart rate and your healthy habits. What if they could provide you rewards based on time
that you were exposed to nature? What would that mean to democratize access to nature? What would that mean to for the business case of nature? What would that mean in terms of creating equitable natural areas, that are going to be accessible to people as a public health intervention. It's going completely mainstream nature and one of the things that I hope that it leads to is that you know, if everyone's familiar with Apple Watch, you have these three different rings. What if one hour in the park, per day could mean the new 10000 steps? What would our world look like, if people on mass were prioritizing being in nature and accessing nature every single day? What would that society look like? Those are big questions, but these are exactly the kind of things that the use of emerging technologies in this space brings to light and that's why I'm thrilled that I was able to share just a couple of the different examples that the internet of nature, could mean in your studies, in your work, in your practice and if you're at all interested in exploring more of them, please feel free to reach out to me I would love to continue the discussion both on my socials and if you really want to dive in, I also have a podcast called The Internet of Nature podcast, in which I go through many many of these examples as well and really kind of dive into some of the origin stories behind a lot of these entrepreneurs and innovators. So, with that, all the very best and thank you for listening to my story.