Monthly Archives: December 2011

Using Open Data to Map Vancouver’s Trees

This week, in preparation for the International Open Data Hackathon on Saturday, the Vancouver Parks Board shared one neighborhood of its tree inventory database (that I’ve uploaded to Buzzdata) so that we could at least see how it might be leveraged by citizens.

What’s interesting is how valuable this data is already (and why it should be open). As it stands this data could be used by urban landscape students and architects, environmentalists, and of course academics and scientists. I could imagine this data would even be useful for analyzing something as obtuse as the impact of the tree’s Albedo effect on the city’s climate. Of course, locked away in the city’s data warehouse, none of those uses are possible.

However, as I outlined in this blog post, having lat/long data would open up some really fun possibilities that could promote civic engagement. People could adopt trees, care for them, water them, be able to report problems about a specific tree to city hall. But to do all this we need to take the city’s data and make it better – specifically, identify the latitude and longitude of each tree. In addition to helping citizens it might make the inventory more use to the city (if they chose to use it) as well as help out the other stakeholders I outlined above.

So here’s what I’ve scoped out would be ideal to do.


Create an app that would allow citizens to identify the latitude and longitude of trees that are in the inventory.

Data Background

A few things about the city’s tree inventory data. While they don’t have an actual long/lat for each individual tree, they do register trees by city address. (Again, you can look at the data yourself here.) But this means that we can narrow the number of trees down based on proximity to the user.


So here is what I think we need to be able to do.

  1. Convert the addresses in the inventory into a format that can be located within Google Maps
  2. Just show the trees attached to addresses that are either near the user (on a mobile app), or near addresses that are currently visible within Google Maps (on a desktop app).
  3. Enable the user to add a lat/long to a specific tree’s identification number.

Awesome local superstar coder/punk rock star Duane Nickull whipped together a web app that would allow one to map lat/longs. So based on that, I could imagine at desktop app that allows you to map trees remotely. This obviously would not work for many trees, but it would work for a large number.


You’ll notice in the right-hand corner, I’ve created an illustrative list of trees to choose from. Obviously, given the cross-section of the city we are looking at, it would be much longer, but if you were zoomed in all the way I could imagine it was no longer than 5-20.

I’ve also taken the city’s data and parsed it in a way that I think makes it easier for users to understand.


This isn’t mind-blowing stuff, but helpful. I mean who knew that dbh (diameter at breast height) was an actual technical term when measuring tree diameters! I’ve also thrown in some hyperlinks (it would be nice to have images people can reference) so users can learn about the species and ideally, even see a photo to compare against.


So, in short, you can choose a tree, locate it in Google Maps and assign a lat/long to it. In Google Maps where you can zoom even closer than ESRI, you could really pick out individual trees.

In addition to a desktop web app, I could imagine something similar for the iPhone where it locates you using the GPS, identifies what trees are likely around you, and gives you a list such as the one on the right hand side of the screenshot above, the user then picks a tree from the list that they think they’ve identified, stands next to the tree and then presses a button in the app that assigns the lat/long of where they are standing to that tree.