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West Hub Spoke Graduate Student Contributes to LA Tree Canopy Project

Los Angeles native Cindy Chen grew up in a stereotypical concrete-laden urban community. As a West Big Data Innovation Hub Spoke graduate student researcher, Cindy has been working on a project with City Plants to change the landscape of LA inner-city areas. Specifically, she’s using GIS tools to help City Plants and the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office to plant more than 90,000 trees and increase tree canopy cover by 50 percent throughout many low-income communities.

“Mayor Garcetti set this goal with City Plants and aims to increase tree canopy in areas like mine by 50 percent,” said Cindy, who is working on an M.S. in environmental science and an M.A. in geography at the California State University Los Angeles. “I started my work on this project as a GIS intern with a West Hub-affiliated Spoke program called SEEDS, which stands for Social Equity Engagement Geo-Data Scholars, at Cal State LA, and feel fortunate to now be employed by City Plants as a GIS specialist working on urban forest tree equity mapping.”

Most recently Cindy helped develop an Urban Tree Canopy Storymap that displays all of the trees planted since the beginning of the City Plants project in 2014. The user-friendly Storymap also provides technical insight into the project. That is, by clicking on a particular area of the map, users can see dimensions of each community’s overall area, existing tree canopy, possible areas for additional canopy, and much more.

“Cindy’s urban tree canopy StoryMap was the foundation for an entire data-driven movement to equitably grow tree canopy within the city. From better honing predictive models of potential tree planting locations to estimating tree planting costs to increase tree canopy in communities like South LA, this entire analysis sets the stage for addressing some of the historic disparities experienced in LA,” said Preston Mills, community data manager for the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Data Team. “Cindy is also working with StreetsLA to build capacity to drive equity in various components of the city’s services. We are so excited to see the capacity of students like Cindy help strengthen a nonprofit’s capacity to leverage city data and use their skills to directly strengthen a data-driven equity approach within our city teams.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), urban tree canopy has been shown to have multiple benefits for communities such as reduced air pollution and decreased summer peak temperatures. West Hub Spoke graduate student Cindy Chen has focused on using GIS tools to visualize areas in need of tree canopy via the Los Angeles City Plants project. She plans to continue this work after graduation from Cal State LA with a focus on environmental policy and justice.

In addition, Cindy assisted with the COVID Diaries’ Community Archiving Project, which documents experiences throughout Los Angeles during the pandemic. “Cindy worked with students in one of my freshman [introduction to college] classes to develop a photo-based storymap archive,” said Dr. Lani Cupchoy, a lecturer at Cal State LA who focuses her research on public culture, civic engagement and community formation. “She guided [freshmen] students to gain a deeper understanding of how to apply big data to community-based projects with the ultimate goal of building an accessible database for the City to allocate resources during the pandemic.”

“Many of us who have grown up in Southern California take for granted that concrete and urbanization are irreversible,” said Christine Kirkpatrick, Co-Executive Director of the West Hub. “Cindy Chen, the City of Los Angeles, and Dr. Cupchoy show us it is possible to not only dream of a better future for our urban areas through the use of data and StoryMaps, but that we can build better cities today.”

To learn more about Cindy’s work, as well as additional SEEDS scholars, please visit the website. Applications for future SEEDS scholars will soon be available for interested graduate students.

About the West Big Data Innovation Hub:

The West Big Data Innovation Hub is one of four regional hubs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build and strengthen strategic partnerships across industry, academia, nonprofits, and government. The West Hub community aims to catalyze and scale data science for societal needs – connecting research, education, and practice in thematic areas such as natural resources and hazards, metro data science, health, and data-enabled discovery and learning. Coordinated by UC Berkeley’s Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society, the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and the University of Washington, the West Hub region includes contributors and data enthusiasts from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and a global network of partners.

About City Plants:

City Plants is a non-profit organization running a public-private partnership between the City of Los Angeles and six other non-profit organizations. Together, City Plants works with community groups, residents, and businesses to coordinate tree planting and care throughout Los Angeles. City Plants provides free shade trees for residents and property owners in the City of LA, along with important information on where to plant those trees to maximize energy efficiency in homes or businesses.

Related Links:

West Big Data Innovation Hub:

National Science Foundation:

The Big Data Innovation Hubs:


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