Mapping New York City’s street trees: urban heat

Cornell’s innovative model reveals new strategies for urban cooling

As cities grapple with record-breaking temperatures, Cornell researchers have developed an ingenious solution: a “leaf-level” visualization of New York City’s trees.

This 3D model not only charts the location, size, and type of every tree but also offers a nuanced understanding of how local conditions influence their shading benefits. It’s a project that could redefine how cities plan and plant trees, bringing a new approach to combating urban heat.

A digital twin of New York’s urban canopy

Cornell’s Tree Folio NYC creates a 3D model that simulates how street orientation, width, and building height impact the shading benefits of trees. This understanding could inform strategies for equitable climate mitigation.

Addressing the urban heat crisis

As the hottest month on record globally, July has marked the urgency of urban tree cover. The federal Inflation Reduction Act further supports climate resilience initiatives, emphasizing the role of trees in confronting extreme heat events.

Lidar scanning: a breakthrough technique

Utilizing lidar sensing, researchers have constructed the model using New York City’s 2021 aerial scan. This interactive map allows users to view and analyze each tree, revealing its health status, height, and shading effect, linking to the city’s 2015 tree census.

The difference in quality

The Tree Folio, NYC model has revealed variations in tree quality across neighborhoods. This understanding can guide cities to plant trees where they will have the most impact, rather than uniformly, maximizing cooling benefits.

Collaboration and large-scale data handling

Combining AAP’s understanding of urban data and the Urban Tech Hub’s experience with complex large-scale data, the project stands as a testament to teamwork. The 600-gigabyte model extracted from 1,800 lidar files showcases the potential for open-source datasets in climate mitigation strategies.

Tree Folio, NYC specifications

  • Trees mapped: Over 666,000
  • Blocks greened: More than 131,000
  • Urban canopy coverage: 22%
  • Proposed growth: 30% by 2035
  • Data size: 600 gigabytes
  • Lidar files: 1,800

Cooling the cityscape: vision for the future

By understanding the symbiotic relationship between trees and their local environment, cities can adopt strategies that maximize their cooling effects. As urban areas continue to face the growing threats of climate change, tools like Tree Folio, NYC present a tangible solution. It’s a subtle shift in approach, but one that could have profound implications for the equitable and effective mitigation of urban heat.


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