Urban Forest Map Development

Budget Total Project Budget $1,000,000 (Cal Forestry and Fire awarded a $500,000 grant for the development of the Urban Forest Map – approximately half was used for application development – the second half was used for marketing, social engagement, tree inventory, research and administrative costs). Total development costs were around $500,000.

Schedule The contract time line was two years, but we completed the project in less than 12 months.

Summary  The Urban Forest Map is an open-source collaborative web platform for crowd sourced tree inventory and information sharing, ecosystem services calculations, urban forestry analysis, and community engagement. First launched in April 2010 in San Francisco, the Open Tree Map is now used in 13 communities around the world.

The project size was “municipal scale,” meaning that it served the needs of a city agency and allowed for interaction with more than 1,000,000 users at a time, without compromising responsiveness. The database stores millions of unique records and allows for multiple user groups to interact with the data in an easy to use, interactive way.

The primary project purpose was to build an open-source online collaborative tree inventory database with a user experience that works for both tree experts and novices that enables ecosystem services calculations, urban forestry analysis, and community engagement. Functionality goals included, but were not limited to:

  1. Build a Web-Based Platform for Stewardship by the Commons (Open-source)
    • Develop in an open source environment with high transparency and documentation
    • Design for modular construction (essential for developer add-ons)
    • Build a developer community for long-term support of platform (beyond the two year maintenance contract)
  2. Create a Community Ecosystem Management Tool for Use Anywhere
    • Develop a mobile app (for iPhone, android, etc.) for easy tree data collection, canopy surveys, and management work orders
    • Enable the geospatial platform to be a tool for the management of urban ecosystems over entire regions or the entire planet; ensure the map is region agnostic, accommodates multiple languages, and is able to be viewed at varying scales
  3. Design a Dynamic Crowd-Sourced Database
    1. Design the user interface to be focused around community involvement, tree learning and tree inventory; build as a tool for public input, education, and community-based stewardship
    2. Allow for integration with any type of existing database; inventory and map past, present and future tree locations
    3. Update information in real time; automatic data exchange; synchronize urban forest data between agencies and community groups
  4. Design Easy to Understand Interactive Data Visualization
    • Build a robust GIS/Map-based interface; view, add to and interact with urban tree data; help spatially plan community-based tree planting projects
    • Quickly / accurately calculate and view costs and benefits of the urban forest as a whole or in specific areas; error recognition capabilities in calculations
    • Management / inventory tool; view the environmental benefits of urban trees
    • Create urban forest models for Present and future canopy cover
    • CO2 sequestration
    • Storm water runoff reduction
  5. Build Tree/Human Relationship Management System
    • Build Tree Profile Pages similar to a “Facebook” page for each tree in city  / urban area
    • Build Human Profile pages similar to tree pages, with human-to-human communication system, alerts, “friends”, colleagues, etc.
    • Enable e-donation for specific tree sponsorship – enabled for a future tree care fund; strategically generate support for tree planting and maintenance

The Urban Forest Map has now become the primary urban forest inventory and management tool for 13 communities across the world. After the project launched in San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, Green-Ideas partnered with GIS specialist Azavea to deploy the Urban Forest Map in Philadelphia. After the project was successful, handed off administration, ongoing development and support to Azavea, an agency that specializes in open-source geospatial technology. They have since developed a business around hosting the application, providing support and customization in a cloud environment.


“Over the course of the development of the Urban Forest Map (now called Open Tree Map), I had the pleasure of watching Green-Ideas turn an idea for a carbon-calculating wiki-based tree map into a robust enterprise-scale database system. The Open Tree Map relies on citizen engagement, and has successfully harnessed this energy through thoughtfully developing public curiosity. They accomplished this by listening to the needs of creative forestry programs, for example Just One Tree and SF Environment’s Urban Orchard programs, then using our feedback to pinpoint systemic issues with how overall forestry data is gathered and made available to the public. Green-Ideas developed responsive, elegant solutions within the Open Tree Map, and created easy-to-use, supportive companion tools where needed, for example the Urban Tree Key.” – Mei Ling Hui, SF Environment, City of San Francisco

Landing Page
Map View
Add New Tree Function
Edit Tree Function
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Tree Info View
Recent Updates View
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Select By Neighborhood Function