A 3D interactive map of the shade provided by every single NYC street tree

There's an amazing and fun website tool, Tree Folio NYC, that identifies and 3D-maps every street tree in New York City and estimates the shade it provides at any given time on any given day of the year. It's created by the Design Across Scales Lab in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University.

I was alerted to it in Philip Bump's Washington Post newsletter "How to Read This Chart," and he gathered some information on how it works.

I spoke with Design Across Scales associate director Alexander Kobald about the tool and the data that undergirds it. Much of that data, he explained, is publicly available, from New York City's 2015 census of the city's trees (providing tree species data for the tool, among other information) to a 2021 lidar scan of the city conducted by the state. (Lidarstands for "light detection and ranging" and is, in essence, a laser-based form of echolocation.)

Kobald's team took data on the height of buildings and, thanks to the lidar scan, the heights of the trees and made a three-dimensional model. Then they simulated shading at various intervals over the course of various days.

It's not only fun to zoom around the city, seeing every tree and building, and the shade they cast, from every angle, it's also a useful tool for scientists and city planners as global warming intensifies. I understand this well; last week, I was a pedestrian tourist in a city experiencing sunny 100-degree days, and we scurried from shady spot to shady spot like our lives depended on it (and they may have).

Bump notes that the tool is also instructive on political and social issues. "For one thing, there were a lot more trees on that Upper West Side street than in Crown Heights, which is a documented manifestation of wealth and racial disparities."

One warning: I did find the site to be slow to load and buggy. I had to experiment with which browser and even mouse would work well with it.