Assessing Your Urban Forest with Vibrant Cities Lab
By Ian Leahy, Director of Urban Forest Programs
One of the most dynamic aspects of the new hub of urban forestry expertise, Vibrant Cities Lab, might not be readily apparent to those who haven’t explored the site’s many nooks and crannies: the Community Assessment and Goal-Setting Tool.
This self-assessment tool is accessible in two places: toward the bottom of the Urban Forestry Toolkit main page and in Step 17 of that toolkit. It is a great resource for urban forestry professionals trying to build their program, for city managers learning about what it takes to build an urban forestry program, or for community advocates looking to provide structure and goals around which to build support.
The Tool is based on 28 criteria that were developed by academic researchers to define what an ideal urban forest management program includes. These criteria range from arboricultural objectives, such as age and species distribution, to more social aspects of urban natural resource management, such as inter-agency coordination and public awareness.
The tool walks users through each criterion, providing a point-based system for self-assessing where their own community stands. For example, if your town or city has no urban tree canopy assessment, you select negative one point for that question. Lacking such data is not only not helping your cause, it is actively working against you. Likewise, if you have conducted a low-resolution assessment using a free tool like i-Tree, give yourself two points. Investing in a high-resolution assessment with clear implementation goals is worth three points. And if that assessment is being actively used rather than sitting on a shelf collecting dust, then you can give yourself the maximum four points.
You then set a realistic goal for that criterion which you think your community can reach within a timeline of your choosing. For example, if you’ve done an i-Tree assessment, but would like to partner with a university to develop a Lidar imagery assessment as the foundation for a robust action plan, you would give yourself two points in the “Current” column and four points in the “Goal” column. The tool will track the gap score between the two columns as you work through every criteria necessary to build a robust urban forestry program.
When you’ve assessed your urban forest for all criteria, the tool will give you an overall final score, as well as one for each topic. You can save your completed assessments by either creating a free account or logging in with an i-Tree account. Each assessment you complete can be added to your profile, making it easy to track your progress toward closing that gap score.
We designed the Community Assessment and Goal-Setting Tool so you control the information. We want city foresters and managers to be comfortable using the tool to make strategic decisions about where to prioritize funding and technical expertise without being held publicly accountable for how their city might match up to comparable cities. American Forests also worked closely with the Arbor Day Foundation and other urban forestry partners to ensure the criteria aligned with their work.
Vibrant Cities Lab is a free product of American Forests, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of Regional Councils that launched in late 2017. It is a platform to deliver urban forestry expertise to the decision-makers who most impact tree canopy. New content can be submitted through the contact form for consideration by an advisory board’s review process.
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