Somerville Tree Health

By Helen Bailey, Scott Gilman, Sofia Reinach, & Olivia Brode-Roger

The data say that Somerville’s many trees face several vulnerabilities, including their health and proximity to unrepaired natural gas leaks that can suffocate their roots. We want to tell this story because we all benefit from trees on our streets and in our parks, but we often take them for granted and ignore the threats they face. Our audience is residents of Somerville. Our goals are to educate them on the condition of trees in their neighborhood and prompt them to take action to protect Somerville’s urban canopy.

We tell this story using an interactive website that local advocacy groups could share on social media. First, users select their neighborhood from a map of Somerville, and then a series of three maps presents the canopy size/area of shade provided, tree condition, and hazard from unrepaired gas leaks. This interaction and our use of the maps as a portrait of each neighborhood’s trees allows the user to find themselves more easily in the data and connect the maps to their lived experience with trees in the neighborhood. After looking at the maps, users are then asked which aspect of tree health they most care about, both to collect data for the advocacy group to help tailor their outreach and to show an appropriate call to action (for example, call a number to request a new tree, or contact the Public Utilities Commission to pressure the utilities to repair minor leaks).

We originally were looking at the gas leak data by itself, but found it difficult to tell a meaningful story on its own. So, we then looked at which gas leaks were threatening trees as a hook to get people to care about gas leaks, and decided to center our narrative on other measures of tree health