The Data Science Working Group Celebrates with Friends of the Urban Forest

The San Francisco urban forest requires concerted effort to grow and maintain. And this being San Francisco, its caretakers want to drive this work with data and technology. The Data Science Working Group recently paired with the Friends of the Urban Forest (FuF) to support this mission, and the roots of that relationship are beginning to take hold.

Recently, FuF invited our group to their annual volunteer appreciation dinner, celebrating the last year’s efforts to expand the city’s tree life. FuF works with the City of San Francisco to support the urban forest, planting over 50,000 trees since 1981.

Prior to that night, we’d been working with a small part of the FuF team on a handful of data problems (analyzing data from the tree survey conducted by the city and visualizing that to support FuF’s efforts). We had no idea how many staff and volunteers contribute to the organization’s efforts. Over a hundred people were there that night; hundreds more plant and maintain trees throughout the year. Many have been working with FuF for years and have formed visibly strong friendships.

For data scientists, connecting with our partners in this way always reaps rewards. We each had the opportunity to meet new staff and toss around ideas, learning more about the data challenges facing FuF and the impact Prop E might have on their work.

We left the party with renewed enthusiasm to continue our work in progress, which includes:

  • Helping to clean and organize the records FuF maintains for trees under their care, updating the records with data from the tree survey to support future data collaboration with the city, now that the DPW will maintain the city’s trees.
  • Developing a model to help FuF understand what trees to plant where. Some neighborhoods have too many trees of one species, where a disease could wipe them all out. Other trees aren’t appropriate for specific planting sites, since they grow so big that they might cause sidewalk damage. We can use the intuitions FuF has developed here to guide their future work in a data-driven way.
  • Continuing to work with the staff to hear more use cases where we believe data can help FuF make decisions, or where tech can help them save time, and keep developing tools accordingly.

Do you work with data and want to help us achieve these goals? Join us.

We’re incredibly excited to keep working with the staff and volunteers of FuF, and look forward to supporting a healthy urban forest for generations to come!