Green infrastructure hasn’t always been a priority in urban development. Now, more than ever, green spaces are an essential component of urban design to build healthy, livable cities, and urban planners have jumped onboard. They have started integrating green infrastructure, green spaces (parks and recreational areas), tree canopies, vertical green walls, and green roofs into urban environments. And they are doing it with the help of maps!

Geographic Information System (GIS ) and geospatial technologies are incredibly useful to plan, build, and monitor green infrastructure. Urban green infrastructure is not only important in building a fun and vibrant city, but also necessary for supporting resilient populations across an environment. Increased use of green spaces is associated to improve psychological well-being, physical activity and general public health of urban residents. As green spaces become important in city planning, it is crucial to be able to visualize them.

Some cities in the U.S already have green infrastructure on the top of their agenda.

Urban Tree CanopyNine cities that love their trees, via National Geographic

Access to green space; also an environmental justice issue

Though the benefits of greening a neighborhood are positive, they tend to increase property values and housing costs often pushing out or displacing traditional residents. According to researchers in the Landscape and Urban Planning Journal, “Most studies reveal that the distribution of [green] space often disproportionately benefits predominantly white and more affluent communities. Access to green space is therefore increasingly recognized as an environmental justice issue. Many US cities have implemented strategies to increase the supply of urban green space, especially in park-poor neighborhoods.”

Increased use of trees, especially in low-income housing areas has been shown to reduce noise pollution, filter air pollution and lower crime rates. Integrating trees along street sides of compact urban landscapes may improve environmental inequities.

While maps are only as good as their data (sometimes maps deceive the eye), they are a powerful tool in predicting and planning how cities grow. GIS and Remote Sensing go side by side in urban planning to help the decision-making process for new zoning laws, accommodate demographic changes and preservation of natural environments (wetlands, natural forests and rivers) on the border of new urban developments.

Here are three organizations who are already using maps to enhance green infrastructure in their cities:

1. Casey Trees

Casey Trees Logo

Casey Trees, a local non-profit organization based in DC has the mission to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation’s capital by using GIS in their Research and Mapping programs. “We’ve compiled a map showcasing all of the nurseries within 25 miles of our headquarters in the District, Maryland and Virginia. These nurseries and garden centers have plenty of trees waiting for you to come claim them”

Casey Trees map showcasing all of the nurseries within 25 miles of their headquarters in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

2. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities

Greenroofs for health cities Logo

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities- North America, is a not-profit association with the mission to develop and protect the market by increasing awareness of the economic, social and environmental benefits of green roofs, green walls and other forms of living architecture. Green roofs increase urban biodiversity through the attraction of pollinators (birds, bees and hummingbirds) and reduce hotter city temperatures caused by the heat island effect.

Green Rooffds – Map

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3. New York Restoration Project (NYRP)

New York Restoration Project (NYRP), is a non-profit organization driven by the conviction that all New Yorkers deserve beautiful, high-quality public space within ready walking distance of their homes.

“As New York’s only citywide conservancy, they bring private resources to spaces that lack adequate municipal support, fortifying the City’s aging infrastructure and creating a healthier environment for those who live in the most densely populated and least green neighborhoods.”

NYRP has a map initiative that compiles locations of parks, gardens, community spaces and tree plantings across New York’s five boroughs.

NYPR maps

NYPR map that shows various green spaces in New York

Do you know of other organizations or individuals using maps to monitor green spaces in your city? Tweet at us @TechChange and @EvaAdler44 or comment below to join the conversation!

Interested in learning more about how mapping can be used for social good? Join Eva Adler in our upcoming course, Mapping for Social Good. Course begins on July 20!

About Eva

Eva Adler

Eva Adler is  the course facilitator for TC141: Mapping for Social Good. She enjoys exploring geovisualizations that act as platforms for global health and social equity movements. Prior to TechChange, Eva served on the Center for Innovations Team at R4D identifying innovative approaches to water and sanitation challenges across East Africa and India. She thrived conducting field work locally in South Carolina as a GIS Technician at Moore Farms Botanic Garden and in Colorado as a Research Field Assistant at Routt National Forest. Eva has worked in resource-limited environments gathering demographic, health and sanitation data alongside rural communities of Nepal. She holds a BA in Ecology and Geography with deep enthusiasm to collaborate with others who share the same passion for maps and social change.

There are many lessons to be learned from on-site organizations doing implementation.

As a personal account, I was recently reflecting on exploratory calls I conducted while at Results for Development (R4D). Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) organizations had a thing or two to say about how data and mapping technologies influence their work.

One trend I noticed was that innovative WASH organizations felt their voices were not being heard in Washington D.C. During the calls, they explained how they needed a new means of communicating with large donor and funding organizations. The solution? Data.

Data has caused a craze, a buzzword for new bandwagon technology enthusiasts. However, we must proceed with caution. Like a previous post on TechChange, The Case for Gender Data, research questions and our own cultural frameworks can easily slip in and create a biased data set, even with general survey assessments for water, sanitation and hygiene challenges.

From my experiences collaborating with organizations in South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and India, similar themes presented themselves. The encroachment of new ‘innovative’ technologies and the cutthroat need for greater data collection has turned social good work into a narrow-minded desire to show off results rather than produce long-term outcomes.

Water quality and sanitation organizations feel the pressure to collect more data to prove their work’s success through the ‘x’ number of water pumps rather than ‘x’ amount of water being used. (Water Forever or Maji Milele translated in Kenyan, is a unique organization that addresses this issue through the sales of prepaid water meters to water utility companies in Kenya).

This means that maps need a skeptic’s eye, too. GIS applications have become a runner up in the bandwagon club. Maps are only as good as its data and the underlying story it tells. Too many maps in the field of International Development are merely tracking funding allocations and project placements rather than highlighting practical analysis tool sets to benefit socially marginalized populations.

Nonetheless, I have learned from working in this space that data collection, monitoring outcomes and mapping visualizations can most certainly help address water issues, but by no means is the solution.

Innovative technologies can help address the water and sanitation crisis but it’s not a ‘Silver Bullet’ Solution that will change broader social and political structures. It’s when these tools have real world applications to support policy and resource management that new mapping technologies are better equipped to get things done.

A great example of this is IWMI. International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is a pioneer in the field of international water and ecosystem management research. IWMI creates practical tools that are free and open to the public to help address water related issues through climate change vulnerability assessments, groundwater quality monitoring and water resource management.

These are three examples of mapping tools that are initiating a movement towards practical mapping applications with analysis that goes beyond just a point on the map.

“The Himalayan region is considered to be very sensitive to climate change due to the high variation in altitudes. Changes in cloud cover and rainfall, particularly over land; melting of icecaps and glaciers and reduced snow cover are some of the prominent threats due to rise in temperature. “

“The main objective of this study was to identify and prioritize sub-basins/watersheds in the Middle and High Mountains of Nepal that are significantly vulnerable to Climate Change (CC). ”


“The absence of perennial rivers or major water supply schemes to the Peninsula highlights the importance of groundwater as the predominant water resource for domestic, industrial and agricultural use. Intensive irrigation, higher inorganic fertilizer usage and a comparatively dense population may result in over-extraction of groundwater resources and a deterioration of the water quality over time.”

“The objective of this study was to characterize the chemical quality of the Chunnakam aquifer, map the spatial distribution of water quality and making the information easily accessible to future research studies and water/land-use managers.”


“The Water Information System for Sri Lanka aims to provide a web-based framework with access to information on water resources in Sri Lanka in order to ensure the sustainable use and efficient management of water resources. Information on Sri Lanka’s available water resources, how it is changing over time in quantity and quality, the present and future demand for water resources, and how climate change is impacting the overall situation of available water resources.”

If you’d like to learn more about mapping, I encourage you to sign-up for TechChange’s newest Mapping for Social Good certificate course and to join the conversation with me on Twitter at @EvaAdler44 and @TechChange.