ReForest London: Exciting use of GIS for Community Health & Non-Profits in Canada
Last year I volunteered as a GIS Specialist with ReForest London during the planting season. I am a recent graduate from the University of Toronto where I majored in Environmental Studies and Human Geography. I also hold a post-graduate certificate in GIS. I believe more community organizations like ReForest London should incorporate GIS into their projects. To do that I will discuss how ReForest London uses GIS effectively.
How ReForest London Uses GIS
ReForest London partners with the community in order to enhance the environmental and human health of the city through the planting of trees. Tree planting can improve human health by filtering out smog and pollutants linked to heart disease, respiratory illnesses, diabetes or cancer. Green space within a city is vital to citizens because it is linked to lower levels of stress and encourages active living.
ReForest London has forged a number of strong community and government partnerships. Some of those partnerships include Home Hardware, and Royal Bank of Canada.
Each year several thousand of volunteers work together to make London a greener city. Their stated challenge for the next 10 years is to plant a million trees in the City of London. Together, all the individuals and partners plant trees in support of the Million Tree Challenge. Currently, the Million Tree Challenge project has collectively planted over 300,000 trees.
Incorporating GIS into ReForest London Projects
2016 was a milestone year for ReForest London. They transitioned from having staff complete projects and track data manually; to creating a trained and specialized GIS team. Each year the GIS team continues to grow, and as of this year it comprises of ten individuals with various GIS skills that focus on providing electronic mapping and data management support for specific tasks and projects.
The in-house GIS team has become an integral part of the Neighbourhood ReLeaf Program (which consist of Tree Blitz and Tree Depot events) through two on-going projects.
Route Mapping Project: With the aid of the GIS team, ReForest London was able to map individual tree planting locations and create route plans. The route plans are specifically used for the day of the Tree Blitz events for volunteers to use when going door-to-door to offer free trees in lower in-come and low-canopy neighbourhoods. These maps incorporated detailed route maps of the target neighborhoods with a combination of aerial images and parcel boundaries, clipped census tracts, and roads using ArcGIS. The implementation of the new GIS team project meant the Tree Blitz events have become more organized, and tree planters now have effective tools giving them the capability to canvass more homes.
Data Entry Parties Project: At the end of each tree planting season we have a “Data Entry Party”. Volunteers get together over a weekend to organize data that was collected from both the Tree Depot and Blitz events. While out in the field planting trees during the Tree Depot and Blitz events, tree planters had the option to input data into an Esri mobile application (geoform application) or manually record the information about each tree planted and home owner information on a paper form. The organization noticed after a full year of implementing the geoform application in 2016, many of their tree planting volunteers strongly preferred the paper forms despite their valiant effort to implement the application. During the “Data Entry Party” it involves the data to be cleaned, and inputted into Excel spreadsheets then upload the data into the Million Tree Challenge website and Esri ArcMap. The outcome of this project is it to have superior clean or organized data that can be kept for years, and always have data ready for mapping.
Esri Canada Helps Out: The GIS projects I have outlined would not have been possible without the help of Esri Canada. They have a program that provides Esri software at a significant discount to NGOs like Reforest London whose main initiatives are environmental and humanitarian. ReForest London was able to establish a GIS team through the help of Esri Nonprofit Organization. Amber Cantell the Director of Programs at Reforest London told me: “The Esri Nonprofit Organization Program allowed ReForest London to have access to Esri ArcGIS Desktop (software) that would become an enormous help for the non-profit to communicate information to both funders, landowners, and to the public” .
After a year of establishing a team and incorporating GIS projects within ReForest London, Amber Cantell believes;
“It [has] certainly made a great difference for being able to share our impact! And I think it makes all our staff and volunteers feel really good about what we’re doing – to be able to actually see (on a map) that trees have been planted in every corner of the city, thanks to our efforts. It goes a long way to show why London is called the ‘Forest City'”. – Amber Cantell the Director of Programs at Reforest London
With the help of trained GIS personnel and access to specialized software in 2016, the organization distributed and planted over 4,633 native and fruit trees across the city. In addition, it has allowed the organization to provide tree planting volunteers with more detailed maps to aid them in their work.
It is my hope you will agree that Reforest London provides us with a great example of how GIS can be used for community health and non-profits. To learn more about the non-profit tree planting organization, ReForest London, please click on the following links: