New data tool powering multi-million dollar plan to equitably plant trees in Chicago neighborhoods

ByMark Rivera and Ross Weidner, Poinesha Barnes and Jonathan Fagg WLS logo
Friday, November 5, 2021
New data tool powering plan to equitably plant trees in Chicago
Chicago is tackling climate change with trees, utilizing a new tool so planting can be targeted to impact historically underserved neighborhoods.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Community activists and Chicago city officials are teaming up in a multi-million dollar plan to increase tree canopy cover in the city, helping tackle climate change with trees.

On a busy Saturday morning in Little Village, volunteers with Openlands and Mi Villita Neighbors were planting 30 trees to increase canopy cover in the neighborhood. Public health experts connect improving the environment with creating better public health outcomes across the city.

SEE ALSO | Chicago tree canopy dwindling; calls for equity, tree planting in underserved communities

"In Little Village we lack a lot of trees and I spoke to my La Villita Little Village Neighbors and I said wait a minute, we complain that we have one of the worst air in Chicago but we don't have a lot of trees. What we can do about it?" said Yovanny Cabarcas, Mi Villita Neighbors.

Tracking trees is the goal of a brand new data tool created by the Chicago Department of Public Health, they're mapping every tree in Chicago using a technology called Lidar.

"We're able to see where trees are located both on public property and private property," said Raed Mansour, CDPH Director of Innovation. "They go over the city of Chicago with a pulse laser and it picks up the trees that are throughout Chicago, so we get to see big trees and we get to see smaller trees," Mansour said.

Using data from the new tool, city officials plan to spend $46 million during next five years towards tree planting.

"Trees are the most advanced most natural form of technology we have to combat climate change. We know that they can reduce heat, they can improve air quality and they can help manage storm water," said Gaby Wagener-Sobrero, Environmental Policy Analyst, Chicago Mayor's Office.

WATCH | Chicago tree cover follows racial, economic lines

The amount of tree cover in the Chicago follows racial and economic lines, with more tree cover on the North Side and on the South and West sides.

Now, planting can be targeted to impact historically underserved neighborhoods.

"It's really important that we use trees the trees that we do have in an equitable way to make sure to those who need it most," Wagener-Sobrero said.

The new data tool is expected to be available to the public within the next two weeks. You'll be able to put in your address and check out how the tree cover in your neighborhood compares to the rest of the city.

The DSS and Chicago Department of Transportation plan to plant 7,580 trees this year in neighborhoods across Chicago. And they are partnering with the Morton Arboretum and CRTI to plant trees in neighborhoods underserved by the tree canopy.

To ask for a free tree to be planted in your community, head here: