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Test Drive of Vibrant Cities Lab: Community Needs Assessment Tool for Urban Forestry

As part of our work at the Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria (TSAA) -- a local resident group focused on tree planting, tree care, and tree advocacy -- we're starting to explore the broader needs of our two communities. What are we doing well? What could we be doing better? What unmet needs are there? (I'm a current board member of TSAA and the following represents my personal views.)

In light of this, I was pleased to learn about the Vibrant Cities Lab work (courtesy of Jad Daley and Ian Leahy of American Forests). It's funded by the USDA Forest Service, American Forests, and the National Association of Regional Councils.

The tools available from Vibrant Cities Lab can be valuable for urban forestry commissions, park and recreation leaders, urban foresters and urban planners, community leaders, and residents in assessing the needs of a community and planning forward for a robust and healthy tree canopy. It includes an Urban Forestry toolkit that allows you to Assess, Prioritize, Organize, Plan, Built, and Sustain your local tree canopy.

Another section allows you to sort research and case studies by impact area -- water quality, air quality, equity, smart cities tech, and health are just a few of those listed. There are many case studies from across the country. For example, one case study in Providence, RI, in the urban planning impact area, shows how city trees are a vital part of the locality's climate adaptation plan.

Finally, the Vibrant Cities Lab site also includes a searchable library of resources containing curated research papers, ordinances, guides, and other resources "deemed most helpful in making the case for urban forestry or making it happen in your community."

Now, at TSAA we're a little different than the dedicated urban forestry staff at the municipal levels who do this work on a day to day basis, so I was curious about how it might apply to us. We're a public private partnership, working closely with residents, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, other nonprofits who care about trees (such as EcoAction Arlington, among others), Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, and private companies that want to do their part of create a healthy and productive environment in our communities. We cover two jurisdictions, specifically, as a community corps of people who care passionately about our tree canopy.

To check out how the Lab could perhaps guide us in starting to illuminate on a larger-scale level where we as an organization could further supplement the positive work that Arlington and Alexandria are doing, I went to the Sustain section of the Urban Forestry Toolkit to complete the Community Needs Assessment and Goal-Setting Tool. This great resource lets you map what your locality is currently doing against best practice goals.

Completing it requires a good level of awareness of current goals and current practices of the jurisdiction. Of course, doing this for two communities may not work, I realized after trying it out just for fun and without any data available. Instead, a productive approach could involve completing two assessments (you can save your results when done) and comparing them. See a sample of one of the questions below -- for example only.

And at the end of the assessment, it scores how you're doing overall (again, for example only):

In summary, I can see this tool as being valuable for looking across the two jurisdictions we're working with, and giving us a view for determining how well we're doing on a micro-regional basis with our tree canopy goals. It also can be useful in diving deeper into Arlington and Alexandria.

Overall, the Vibrant Cities Lab has many valuable tools that I look forward to using on my own work in the field.

#VibrantCitiesLab #UrbanForestry #SDGs #Trees #CommunityNeedsAssessments

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