A new map of Los Angeles highlights one form of inequality: which of the city’s streets and homes get the benefit of shade from the the city’s 10-million-plus trees. The city is the first to pilot a new tool from Google, called Tree Canopy Lab, that was used to create the map.
L.A. plans to plant 90,000 trees by next year as part of its version of the Green New Deal, and to increase the tree canopy in the areas that need it most by 50%. It’s targeting neighborhoods “most impacted by extreme heat related to climate change,” says Rachel Malarich, the city’s first-ever forestry officer. While trees have multiple benefits in cities, from improving air quality to boosting mental health, they’re also particularly helpful in mitigating the urban heat island effect—the fact that large swaths of concrete make some neighborhoods even hotter when temperatures rise. The EPA reports that shaded surfaces can be 20 to 45 degrees cooler. The new tool can help identify the areas to prioritize for tree planting.
Google launched the project as part of Environmental Insights Explorer, a platform it created to help cities deal with climate change and air pollution. It started by partnering with L.A. to understand the city’s needs, then designing a solution that it plans to make available to other cities. “One of the best ways for us to do hundreds or thousands of cities is to first do one or two cities,” says Nithya Sowrirajan, a director at Google Maps.