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How the US Forest Service is connecting Philly environmental orgs with a map

January 22, 2016 Category: FeaturedMethod
There are hundreds of organizations in Philadelphia doing environmental work. But how well connected are they?

That’s what the U.S. Forest Service is working to figure out, and they’re doing it with geospatial data.

You know, a map.

The Forest Service’s Stew-MAP (stewardship map) has found success in cities like New York City and Baltimore. For the past three years, the federal department’s Philly branch has been working with the University of Maryland to identify environmental groups in the city, then surveying them to discover their geographic area of focus and the kind of greening work they’re doing.

According to Field Station Coordinator Sarah Low, the point is to both better understand the impact that greening has on communities and help connect those organizations with each other and outside groups.

“If you can get a sense for how well people are actually connected, then you can find the gaps where they’re not connected and help make that introduction,” Low said.

Low said that the team has surveyed over 200 organizations in the city doing greening activity. She said that despite how long she’s been working in this industry, the amount of organizations included on the list still shocked her — in a good way.

“There are hundreds of groups doing something from an environmental perspective for the city of Philadelphia,” she said. “It’s amazing to see the grassroots work that’s happening in Philadelphia.”

All that work can be magnified if organizations working in the environmental stewardship space can coordinate their efforts to reach parts of the city that aren’t getting much attention. For instance, people generally understand that community development corporations are pretty well-connected to each other — but how well-connected are they with tree tender groups?

The hope, Low said, is that someone from the CDC will find an organization doing greening work in their neighborhood and partner with them on greening work — and, in the future, find out which organizations need volunteer support and which have open volunteer opportunities.

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“That’s what I’d like to do, help people also connect with volunteers,” Low said. “There seems to be a need for that.”

The map is still in the works, and moving slowly. It’s a high-capacity project being pursued by a small team, and Low said they’ve been digitizing all that data by hand. Once the map is complete, some of it will be made publicly available — not all the organizations who took the survey want their information to be public.

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