If These Trees Could Talk: Connecting Communities to the Environment

If trees improve a neighborhood but no one’s able to see how, are they still helping the community?

Of course they are. But not as much as they could.

Knowing more about the health of trees and green infrastructure, getting accurate and local environmental sensor data about the air, water, and soil around us—this is key to empowering and enabling people to make where they live better.

A Tree That Texts When It’s Thirsty

Two stewards planting around a street tree in Gowanus

I see this play out all the time with the communities and organizations we work with here at Temboo. Our work with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy in particular shows how making environmental sensor data available to communities can drive change.

The Data

Working with Temboo, GCC monitors the health of street trees in their neighborhood using soil moisture sensors buried underground.

Combining this data with information about the trees from the NYC Street Tree Map along with local rainfall readings has enabled GCC to see how well their street trees absorb and retain stormwater. This helps them see how these trees, acting as green infrastructure, can keep water out of sewers and thus reduce the incidence of sewer overflows into the Gowanus Canal when it rains.

The Findings

A map image of the street trees being monitored in Gowanus
The street trees being monitored in Gowanus

GCC has publicized their results from this street tree sensor monitoring using a report we developed for them.

The most interesting result is that stewardship appears to be the primary factor in accounting for how well individual trees retain and divert stormwater. This insight helps guide GCC as they look for the most effective ways to improve their green infrastructure in order to maintain their watershed.

And all this was only possible because of another critical source of data: people!

People, Data, Technology

Soil moisture readings during rain events for a ginkgo tree in Gowanus
Soil moisture readings during rain events for a ginkgo tree in Gowanus

Obviously people are the ones who provide stewardship to the trees. In GCC’s case, they are local volunteers who live in the neighborhood.

However, the volunteers in this project also provided data themselves: about the stewardship activities they were performing and their own personal observations of how the trees were doing. Much of this can be captured alongside the sensor data graphs by annotating them with notes, a powerful capability we released last year.

In fact, the ability to add notes directly to Temboo graphs was in large part inspired by our work with GCC.

This is how people, data, and technology all connect and combine together in a virtuous cycle. The sensor technology enables Temboo to help organizations collect environmental sensor data that they can share with their people. Then people are inspired to contribute their own data and insights, work to improve the environment, and find more ways to utilize technology to make this happen.

More on the Horizon

As we continue our work with GCC and other community-based environmental groups, I’ll be sharing more and more use cases on the Temboo blog. I’ll focus in on the data (from sensors, from public sources, from community members themselves) that they’re able to collect and synthesize using Temboo. And I’ll touch on how technology enables all this and on how people and communities drive change and are changed for the better by these efforts.

Stay tuned!

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