2014 Grants Challenge

TreeMapLA: Crowd-Sourcing a Healthy Watershed sponsored by TreePeople

Idea by TreePeople

On TreeMapLA Angelenos can crowd-source a healthier future by revitalizing our urban watershed: one tree and one rain garden at a time.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

TreePeople unites the power of people, trees and nature-based solutions to grow a healthier future for LA.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

Central LA

East LA

South LA

San Gabriel Valley

San Fernando Valley

South Bay


What is your idea/project in more detail?

As our climate changes and we face more extreme heat and drought, LA’s livability depends on:

An equitable and ample tree cover. The US Forest Service recommends at least 25% canopy cover for LA. Many areas in L.A. have canopy as little as 6%.

A secure, sustainable, and clean local water supply. The City of LA relies on costly, diminishing imported water for nearly 90% of its supply, while paying millions to clean up stormwater pollution from wasted rainfall. is an innovative new technology sponsored by TreePeople that enables Angelenos to crowd-source the revitalization and stewardship of our urban watershed. Through TreeMapLA, Angelenos can grow a healthier, safer, cooler city with ample trees and clean local water.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

In March, 2014 TreePeople launched TreeMapLA, a website and mobile app enabling communities to improve the environmental health of Los Angeles. Over the next year we plan to Populate, Innovate, and Communicate the map to crowd-source a greener LA.


TreeMapLA calculates eco-benefits (carbon dioxide captured, water saved, etc.) and monetary benefits for each tree and rainwater feature mapped. The more populated the map, the greater the calculated benefits, further motivating community action to increase canopy coverage and local water supplies. Over the next year we will:

● Activate our 10,000-strong volunteer base to participate in mapping events

● Train volunteer leaders – TreePeople’s and those of our partners - to lead their own mapping events

● Provide teachers with a STEAM-based curriculum to lead their students in tree mapping activities

● Seek municipal agencies and non-profit organizations with tree inventories to upload

● Broadly invite partners who can utilize tree mapping and activate their constituents


Inspired by the open source ethos of the OpenTreeMap platform upon which TreeMapLA is based, we intend to find and include features that will allow TreeMapLA to be the most efficient and user-friendly tool we can build, knowing our work will benefit all OTM users. Over the next year we are planning:

● Addition of Alerts & Actions enabling stewardship to mobile app

● Increased social media connections

● Bulk data upload, to upload tree inventories from municipalities and partners

● Content editing functionality, to keep the map timely and relevant

● A bridge between TreeMapLA and our database, Salesforce, allowing us to better communicate with TreeMapLA users, provide more specific educational and action opportunities, and facilitate ongoing stewardship, e.g. allowing us to send an email that says, “We see you planted a tree a month ago. Have you watered it?” along with specific resources.


With teachers: To fulfill TreeMapLA’s educational potential, TreePeople has created curriculum for teachers, and will provide professional development training to use it. We’d like to provide free field trips to teachers who get the most students involved with TreeMapLA.

With the community: Through social media, additional videos, tree ID and mapping events, and engaging partners and their constituents, we will be communicating about TreeMapLA to many audiences throughout LA.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LIVE today? In 2050?

Los Angeles’ urban ecosystem is broken and our future is at risk. Angelenos are in need of a healthier and more climate-resilient city – one with sufficient tree canopy to protect our neighborhoods, and more locally-sourced water. We urgently need our urban environment to protect us from extreme heat waves, droughts and floods, and related health and economic problems happening now -- and forecast to intensify in our future.

Trees capture, filter and store rainwater, save energy, significantly cool surrounding areas, and absorb carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants. Some areas of LA have canopy coverage at nearly 40%, while others are only in the single digits. This geographic disparity corresponds with socio-economic and chronic health issues, leaving many of our most vulnerable residents even more at risk in years to come.

The City of LA currently imports nearly 90% of its water from remote and increasingly contested sources. Meanwhile, every time it rains an inch in the city, 3.8 billion gallons run into the ocean. The city “throws away” an estimated $400 million worth of rainwater every year. This pollutes our ocean, leading to beach closures, sickness, and costly fines, and damages marine life.

TreeMapLA shows the community specific eco-benefits of each tree and watershed feature, and the urban watershed as a whole. Each benefit is directly, or indirectly, related to the health of our city:

● Energy conserved (reducing energy-related carbon and particulate pollution due to cooling temperatures)

● Stormwater filtered (adding to cleaner local water supply)

● Air quality improved (reducing respiratory disease)

● Carbon dioxide removed and stored-to-date (reducing climate change)

● Stormwater runoff reduced (reducing pollution and toxicity)

● Water conserved (increasing water supply).

Too often, because the environmental issues facing people seem so overwhelming, they feel powerless and paralyzed, unable to believe they can make any meaningful change. Research and our own experience tell us that when people see the difference they make, they are motivated to do more. We know that once people begin to notice and learn about trees, they never see the city the same way again. Noticing and learning are the first steps towards valuing. Living in a way that values, promotes and protects nature even in the most urbanized areas of LA improves our health -- now and in the future.

Whom will your project benefit?

TreeMapLA is a shared resource for LA’s people and organizations to co-create, revitalize, and steward a healthy urban forest watershed. By bringing people together with a shared vision for growing a more sustainable LA -- and a way of measuring their actions -- this collaborative tool can help all residents improve their communities, their health, and their well-being.

TreePeople is reaching out to specific audiences to take a leading role. These include:

1. Teachers and students. Using our 4 decades of experience developing environmental education, TreePeople’s TreeMapLA curriculum teaches all 5 “STEAM” areas--Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics--as students analyze canopy coverage and water needs of their school, map existing trees, identify species, understand eco-benefits, and use alerts to identify trees needing care. Rainwater harvesting projects can be identified and implemented, later using water saved to care for the trees schools have planted.

2. Partner organizations and their audiences. TreePeople is actively seeking partners to use TreeMapLA to advance their own goals. We are developing a set of best practices, promotional and outreach materials, and tips and tools that other organizations can adopt and make their own.

3. Those who can restore a functioning ecosystem (all of us). With spiraling costs to fix our broken ecosystem, and diminishing financial resources to do so, government agencies alone cannot plant or care for all the trees needed to achieve an ample urban tree canopy, nor can they provide a sustainable local water supply through traditional methods. For LA to be healthy and viable in the future, all of us need to become active managers of the urban watershed and ecosystem, taking personal responsibility for the trees in our lives and our city, and the rainwater that falls on our properties.

4. A movement of active tree stewards and rainwater harvesters. As TreeMapLA is further developed and collaborators join, it’s an ideal platform for building a movement -- where those who are taking action can learn from and help others, where agencies can track water, energy and pollution savings and provide incentives, where neighborhoods, schools and cities can define their portion of the urban watershed and set goals and programs to improve them.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Early conceptual and design partners include LA City Recreation & Parks, LA City Urban Forestry Division and City Plants (formerly Million Trees LA). All provided invaluable insight into the need for collaborators to 1) feel a sense of ownership, 2) use the map to help achieve their own strategic goals, and 3) find ways for TreeMapLA to fit into their current programs.

Partners currently providing direction on community and user engagement include Industrial District Green, a Downtown LA group increasing the livability of Skid Row and the Arts District by planting trees, UC Riverside, and the Earthwatch Institute, which engages people worldwide in scientific research.

IDG has been instrumental in helping to beta test TreeMapLA. Since the map launched, IDG has been partnering to map all the trees and empty tree wells in their area to create a master tree plan to plant the empty wells, determine where new trees can be placed, and better provide maintenance. What’s exciting about this partnership is its replicability in creating neighborhood-level master tree plans and tackling low-canopy areas.

Our newest partnership is with Earthwatch Institute, an international non-profit, UC Riverside researchers, and several local non-profits to use TreeMapLA for ground-truthing that compares actual tree data to visual data collected by NASA flights to determine water use and growth rates of different species in different locations within the LA area. The goal is to predict which trees might be more sustainable as the climate in Southern California grows hotter and drier. To participate in a Citizen Science project that could literally change the urban forestry landscape in Los Angeles is incredible, and TreePeople sees this as only the first of many such projects, partnering with local non-profits and universities to collect and share usable scientific data through TreeMapLA.

In the next year we’ll form a TreeMapLA Advisory Committee, and have identified urban forestry and related organizations to invite. We hope to bring in diverse ideas and ownership to make this the most valuable tool possible for our entire region.

Our most important and long-term partnership, however, is with the people of LA. Our 40 year history has been one of partnering with people from all walks of life to educate, empower and motivate them to heal our environment. TreeMapLA makes it easier for all of us to join together and share knowledge to make our city more sustainable.

How will your project impact the LA2050 LIVE metrics?

Access to healthy food

Exposure to air toxins

Percent of imported water

Obesity rates

Walk/bike/transit score

Acres and miles of polluted waterways

Rates of mental illnesses

Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)

Percentage of tree canopy cover (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

TreePeople’s 10-year vision focuses on two important goals for LA’s future viability:

1. A minimum 25% of tree canopy cover across the region to protect people against extreme heat, severe weather, and negative health impacts;

2. A minimum 50% of affordable, locally-sourced water supply to provide security against droughts, pollution and flooding, and other threats.

Achieving these goals impacts the LA2050 LIVE metrics in numerous ways.

TreeMapLA empowers Angelenos to advocate for trees and their multiple benefits, identify where trees are lacking, and care for existing trees so they can grow to healthy maturity.

Growing an ample, equitable tree canopy cover:

● Increases walking and biking, thereby reducing obesity. Trees reduce the urban heat island effect, reducing air temperatures by as much as 10 degrees. The areas of our city with the lowest tree canopy are the least conducive to outdoor activity and correlate with the the greatest incidences of diabetes, obesity, asthma and cancer.

● Protects people against air toxins. Trees absorb air pollutants linked to respiratory ailments. One mature shade tree can produce enough oxygen for a family of 4 for a year. Neighborhoods with less tree canopy are disproportionately affected by air pollution and related ailments.

● Increases access to healthy food. A mature fruit tree can yield up to 40 pounds of fruit each year. Knowing where LA’s public and communal fruit trees are will increase access to fresh fruit and hopefully increase the efficiency of fruit gleaning organizations.

● Improves mental health. Studies show that green space decreases ADHD in children and increases a sense of calm and well-being in all age groups.

TreeMapLA enables Angelenos to realize the benefits of harvesting rainwater to create an ample, clean, sustainable local water supply:

● Increasing community resilience, reducing our unsustainable reliance on LA’s vulnerable imported water sources and creating a decentralized supply that is safer in the event of earthquakes, fires and other disasters.

● Reducing polluted waterways by capturing the rain instead of allowing it to run off paved surfaces, collecting trash and pollutants as it rushes to our bays and ocean.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We will measure our success over the next year by tracking several metrics which will give us a snapshot of how Angelenos are engaging with TreeMapLA:

● Number of TreeMapLA Users: 2,800. Achieved by developing tree mapping volunteers at TreePeople (goal: 1,000), through social media and partner organizations, enhanced by how-videos and sharing best practices (goal: 1,500), through teachers and students using STEAM curriculum (goal: 300).

● Number of Trees Mapped: 250,000. Achieved by importing existing inventories, involving partners and holding tree ID and mapping events. All supported by the development of the advisory council and outreach to public and nonprofit partners across LA, and further supported by building a bridge to the Salesforce database to facilitate further engagement with map users so each user continues to map trees.

● Number of Watershed Solutions Mapped: 1,000. Achieved by awareness campaign through social media, how-to video, and building out programming and incentives with agencies and partners, as well as Salesforce bridge.

● Use of Stewardship Features: 2,000 Alerts and Actions. Achieved by enhancing the mobile app to include this layer, additional how-to video, collaboration with partners, and Salesforce bridge to enable follow up communications that lead to continued engagement and action.

In the spirit of healthy competition, and with a nod to their assistance during our development process, TreePeople is setting our tree mapping goals to catch up to our California forebears:

● Urban Forest Map: 88,388 trees mapped to date (San Francisco - est. 2010)

● Greenprint Maps: 198,703 trees mapped to date (Sacramento - est. 2011)

● San Diego Tree Map: 341,083 trees mapped to date (San Diego - est. 2012)

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Over 40 years, TreePeople has learned a lot about engaging the community for a healthier urban environment. We created the Citizen Forestry model, which became a grassroots movement spreading to cities across the country and globe. We’ve helped lead the internationally recognized Sun Valley Watershed Project that demonstrates the feasibility of a nature-inspired approach treating the city as a living ecosystem to prevent flooding and create a sustainable, clean local water supply. Our tree planting and care events across LA and in the local mountains have involved more than 2 million people, and we work as a facilitator with some of the largest government agencies in our region to better manage the urban ecosystem.

Based on all our experience, two lessons informing the TreeMapLA project are:

1. To achieve a tipping point in shifting LA towards sustainability requires work at both the grassroots and the government agency levels, and this work needs to be coordinated and synergistic. To achieve ample canopy cover and local water, Angelenos need to make changes at the lifestyle level -- valuing nature in the city, changing their landscapes, caring for trees and harvesting rainwater. These are actions which government cannot easily mandate. However, agencies can use their budgets to incentivize residents to take these actions, such as give rebates and credits. What has been needed is a shared measurement and feedback tool so that residents can take demonstrable action, and agencies can track savings and benefits. As these increase, so can a positive cycle of investment and action.

2. All our tree planting will be for naught if there is no stewardship. Here’s the basic lesson. Trees in the city do not live without people to care for them. The average lifespan of an urban tree is only 7 years. We cannot achieve the life-supporting, potentially life-saving, ample tree canopy we need in Greater LA without activating people to become urban forest stewards. TreeMapLA provides a powerful tool to motivate and guide potentially millions of people to care for the trees around them.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We have a thought-through 12-month plan to develop the technology and partners and programs so that TreeMapLA can begin to achieve its potential (actual dates depend on timing of funding):

First Quarter

● Complete additional elements:

○ Editing functionality on Watershed Feature Layer

○ Capacity to upload bulk inventories of trees to map

○ Mobile application IOS and Andriod – tree mapping and stewardship

● Develop Best Practices for holding tree mapping events

○ Start training mapping leaders, looking to TreePeople’s 462 Volunteer Supervisors as first audience

○ Begin holding Tree ID clinics for map users and interested public

● Education and outreach:

○ Test STEAM curriculum with teachers

○ Create LA-specific tree ID manual

○ Select videographer for how-to videos

○ Continue to develop social media presence

● Research which municipalities have existing tree inventories

● Research Salesforce bridge developers

● Research Advisory Committee invitees

Second Quarter

● Complete additional elements:

○ Changeable text – static pages / update content

○ Social media enhancements – ease of use

○ Obtain resource – Salesforce data bridge

● Education and outreach:

○ Begin incentive program for teachers who use curriculum

○ Outreach to 1-3 partners for tree inventories

○ Script and produce how-to videos

○ Continue to develop social media presence

● Design use of tree mapping in volunteer-based programs

● Hold Advisory Committee initial meeting

Third Quarter

● Complete additional elements:

○ Discovery phase – Salesforce data bridge

○ Uploading of 1-3 bulk tree inventories to map

● Education and outreach:

○ Continue testing of tree mapping for best practices in volunteer programs

○ Outreach to 1-3 partners for tree inventories

○ Share how-to videos on map and social media to get people using the map

● Advisory Committee meeting follow up

Fourth Quarter

● Complete additional elements:

○ Implementation phase – Salesforce data bridge

○ Uploading of 1-3 bulk tree inventories to map

● Education and outreach:

○ Inclusion of tree mapping in all volunteer-based programs

○ Drive Angelenos to tree mapping events via social and traditional media

○ Share tree mapping best practices with partners and public

○ Continue building social media presence

● Advisory Committee meeting follow up

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

While we expect to encounter technological issues, we plan to turn them into opportunities.

One issue that we have learned to deal with is that it often takes longer than expected to develop a good idea into a usable functionality. While we have been waiting for the ability to enhance the content and interface on TreeMapLA, we have been utilizing our social media to tackle everything from tree identification to drought awareness to teaching followers how to use the different functionalities on the map. This, in turn, has made the TreeMapLA Facebook page and Twitter feed a more general resource for tree knowledge, increasing our followers.

The one big elephant in the room whenever we talk about using technology to help increase tree canopy in LA is that in many of the lowest canopy areas of the city, community members don’t necessarily have the technology to facilitate using the TreeMapLA app, which is supposed to make the process “easier.” In this case, we’ve developed a Manual Mapping Sheet, which allows users to collect large amounts of tree data with pen and paper and input into the TreeMapLA website later.

A big impediment to many people using TreeMapLA is Tree ID. But, as the species is needed to determine the eco benefits, it is highly important that we get that data. There is a technological solution, in the Urban Tree Key that the website and mobile app link to, but sometimes the better solution is a low-tech one, so we are in the process of creating a “Common Trees of LA” cheat sheet to help TreeMapLA users figure out what trees they’re looking at, and we are planning Tree ID events along with mapping events for TreePeople volunteers and our partners.

One of the major barriers to getting Watershed Solutions on the map is educating the public on Rainwater Harvesting and why it is a feasible solution for Los Angeles. We are hoping that our work will be self-perpetuating, with the appearance of more Watershed Solutions on the map leading to better visibility and understanding for the general public, more involvement by water agencies, and a more widespread desire for implementing those solutions.

In all of these cases, TreePeople has learned to be agile and to try to find the opportunity behind the challenge, which not only solves the problem, but makes the tool and the process more efficient in the future.

What resources does your project need?

Network/relationship support

Money (financial capital)

Volunteers/staff (human capital)

Publicity/awareness (social capital)


Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)

Community outreach

Quality improvement research