A new Google tool is aiming to encourage cities to combat rising urban temperatures by planting trees in areas that need them most.
Tree Canopy Lab is a new tool that uses aerial imagery and AI to accurately map out the location of every single tree in a city. The map displays that information alongside data on population density to point out which local neighbourhoods are more vulnerable to higher temperatures during heatwaves.
Cities typically suffer from worse heatwaves than surrounding areas, and tree planting is seen as one of the most effective ways to cool down metropolitan areas.
The tool is currently being trialled in Los Angeles, where it has found that more than half of residents live in areas with less than 10% tree coverage. LA has suffered from worsening heatwaves in recent years, and Tree Canopy Lab has found that 44% of residents live in places with an ‘extreme heat risk’.
The size of the city means there’s a big disparity in temperatures between different neighbourhoods, and Google’s tool found that the hottest areas tended to more densely populated, with lower tree coverage. Planting trees in these areas could help shield people and buildings from hotter temperatures.
Another separate tool also launched this week shows how tree coverage correlates to other demographic factors like race and income. As The Verge reports, historic racist policies designed to keep people of colour out of traditionally white neighbourhoods, known as Redlining, mean that in many cities, minority communities often live in areas more at risk from extreme conditions.
Last year, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans to increase tree coverage in low-income neighbourhoods by 50% by 2028. As part of the city’s green new deal plan, 90,000 new trees will be planted citywide by 2021. The city has previously carried out tree surveys by using LIDAR or manually counting the number of trees on each block, so Tree Canopy Lab, which Google is making available as a free resource, could save a lot of time and money.
Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, with cities on average 6 degrees Farenheit hotter than rural areas. The Environment Protection Agency estimates that better tree coverage could lower temperatures by up to 9 degrees on the hottest days.
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