Visualizing Melbourne’s Urban Forest

Today we are pleased to publish a post from Greg More, founder of OOM Creative. We saw some of the maps being created by Greg and his team for the City of Melbourne and knew our users would be interested in the project and process. Enjoy!

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OOM Creative recently launched a project for the City of Melbourne to visualize their entire tree database as an interactive map. The map, as part of a website to communicate key issues facing Melbourne’s urban forest, presents an overall view of the health of the city trees and also enables users to explore the data for with each individual tree in the city.

This design was based on two main questions. Firstly, how can the data of 70,000 trees be used to communicate the condition of Melbourne’s urban forest? Secondly, how can this information be made available to assist an ongoing public consultation process and therefore accessible across a range of desktop & mobile devices?

In development with the Urban Forest team we designed a digital platform for the project that features: data visualizations, slideshows and interactive maps. After a few data tests, and precedents like the NYC Canopy project, CartoDB became a clear choice for the map component as it could provide solutions to support the above questions: it handles data management, the number of elements and visual styling with ease, and works across platforms including mouse and touch interaction.

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What is unique with the City of Melbourne tree dataset is that it’s based on a total tree audit undertaken by the Urban Forest team: where the condition of each tree in the city was recently assessed for its useful lifetime expectancy. It is this dimension of the data – when mapped through an associated color range – that reveals a visual heat-map of which trees in the city are at risk.

As the project design developed, combining lifespan and tree diversity became the clearest approach to allow the dataset to be understood in a map format. We developed distinctive icons for each of the main tree types (by genus). The symbols, and their coloration, work for print and interactive formats, and retain a level of abstraction so they can be read as trees but do not look like trees.

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This use of colored iconography is most effective when walking through the city and viewing the map on a mobile device: you get an immediate sense of type and status of the trees around you. If there is something to be noted about a tree, simply touch the tree symbol popup, and it sends an email to the City of Melbourne Urban Forest team.

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We look forward to seeing how this map changes overtime, and how the citizens of Melbourne use this information to better manage their urban forest.

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