ATL Trees Data Documentary


Atlanta has the highest percentage of tree canopy of all the major cities in the U.S. at 47.9 percent. Trees are a sense of pride for Atlanta and the city is able to retain its high tree coverage through the work of city codes, nonprofits, and community activists.

The city of Atlanta institutes the Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance to ensure that there is no net loss of trees by instituting policies and recompense. Recompense compensates for trees removed and by “in-kind” planting of replacement trees specified by diameter or by “in-cash” payment into the Tree Trust Fund. The city’s Arborist Division has extensive records of permits for removal, maintenance, and development.

Trees Atlanta is a nonprofit that advocates for trees and preserves Atlanta’s urban forest. The organization is the main contributor to tree plantings in the city and are in the “tree putting up business.” They rely on previous data studies to look for areas to plant in the city. They also document information on their plantings, such as species, location, time of planting, and nursery from where the planting originated.

Previous data visualization has been done on Atlanta’s trees but there remains a gap in coverage and data. The data lacks historical information and Trees Atlanta only stays with the trees specimens for two years. There’s also a noted difference in the measurement of canopy versus number of species.

Trees Atlanta employees granted us access to their IRIS database. Trees Atlanta has a 2-year maintenance window for the trees they plant. If a tree dies of unnatural causes, it is marked in the system. The IRIS system documents 30 year worth of tree planting, and there is a big gap between actual canopy and planting. The IRIS database provides street address and City County district of the planted trees, the nursery the tree come from, and the year the tree are planted. There is no actual data showing overall growth of the tree except for the BeltLine tree (around 700 trees). We also plan on documenting interviews and planting sessions in video format for the project, since many of the issues cannot be told solely by data visualization.

Our team envisions our data documentary to be a combination of data visualization, film, and imagery. We plan on building an interactive data visualization detailing the planting of Trees Atlanta, and possibly Atlanta Arborist Division’s data on trees that are cut down. We plan on making the visualization using Three.js and D3.js. We also would like to conduct and document video footage of interviews and the tree planting process with Trees Atlanta. Interview subjects can range from arborists to citizens, with plans on reaching out to the staff at Trees Atlanta, City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Beltline. We have been granted to access Trees Atlanta’s database and are in the process of contacting City of Atlanta Arborist Department for the tree removal permit data.

The objective is to fill in gaps of data and to tell the story of trees by first-hand accounts. The documentary will share the life cycle of a tree, from permits to planting, growth, threats, and will also look at the history of Atlanta’s canopy. Trees act as a boundary object, with plasticity and importance to the city and the community. For urban planners, trees represent better air quality and lower city temperatures, for realtors it could reflect a historical neighborhood, and for homeowners, a sense of community. Trees are essential in keeping streets safe by providing proper rain run-off, which is essential to a city with flooding problems. Trees are especially vulnerable to construction and development, even if they are left standing there still remains risks of threats to the species root structures, sunlight, and pests.

The data documentary should pique the interests of community activists, city planners, environmentalists, arborists, and Atlantans. With the development of the Beltline, Atlanta has experienced a renewal of its intown neighborhoods. The Beltline is essential to look at is promotes smart growth. They also are working with Trees Atlanta in planting the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum, which runs along the 22-mile trail.



Storyboard for Website and Data Documentary