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Professors awarded $1.5M for urban forest technology research project

Professors awarded $1.5M for urban forest technology research project

Professors awarded $1.5M for urban forest technology research project
October 21
15:40 2022

A research team led by university professor Alexandra Ponette-González will use a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct a five-year study on urban forest technology, according to a press release.

Research Assistant Jennifer Ellis puts a metal tin back on the counter after weighing it on Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Bren McDonald

The researchers will start the project in January and will study i-Tree, a digital tool that can help cities evaluate and make decisions about their urban forests.

The project will focus on the cities of Denton, Texas, Eugene, Oregon and Cleveland, Ohio. The researchers will take quarterly samples from 100 randomly selected trees from each area and compare them with i-Tree estimates of air pollution removal.

“We’re really interested in how that tool is being used, who is using it and how it might be influencing decision-making,” Matthew Fry, a researcher on the team and a university geography and environment associate professor, said. “Are the benefits of urban forests really being distributed fairly? Is participation in decisions about urban forests really being distributed fairly? Is the representation of what matters in urban forests really being represented fairly? […] We’re asking those questions all in that framework of how this tool […] is being used.”

The grant comes from the NSF Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems Program, which “supports research projects that advance basic scientific understanding of integrated socio-environmental systems” and how their components interact, according to the NSF website.

The researchers applied for the grant in November of 2021 and were awarded it in June 2022, Fry said.

Fry and Ponette-González, a geography and environment professor, will be joined by Ashley Coles of Texas Christian University, John Toland Van Stan of Cleveland State University, Yekang Ko of the University of Oregon, Jun Hak Lee of the University of Oregon and MiHyun Kim of Texas State University.

Multiple tins containing different filters sit on display on a lab counter on Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Bren McDonald

The research team plans to benefit the communities they are researching by sharing what they discover with them. When the project concludes, Kim, a communication design assistant professor, will work with the rest of the team to create “public displays” of the study’s findings, Fry said.

“Our goal with this work is not just to publish for the scientific community,” Ponette-González said in the press release. “[…] Ultimately, we hope our results can inform policymaking in the future so that cities can ensure their urban forest planning and management is inclusive and environmentally just.”

Samples of eastern red cedar are displayed on a piece of paper in a lab on Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Bren McDonald

This is part of what the NSF refers to as “broader impacts,” which is something they look for in the projects they fund. The researchers will also seek to involve undergraduate and graduate students from groups that are underrepresented in academia, like women and minorities, Fry said.

“I’m excited to learn more about how we can connect communities to their urban forest,” Van Stan, an associate professor in the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences at Cleveland State, said in an email to the North Texas Daily.

Texas Christian University geography associate professor Coles said she is most excited to directly involve communities in decision-making that impacts them, which helps prevent harm and unfairness.

“Being in conversation with communities who are potentially affected by different kinds of planning decisions is one way to help make the benefits something that people appreciate more and benefit more from, with less potential to cause harm,” Coles said.

Featured Image: Vitex samples are displayed on paper in a lab on Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Bren McDonald

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McKinnon Rice

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