IoTrees – Guadalajara's Internet of Trees

Mexico's major cities are facing a series of difficult challenges because of climate change. The results of shifting weather conditions are palpable in the city Guadalajara that is home to almost five million people in the west of the central Mexican highlands. Mexico's second-largest city struggles with rising temperatures and extreme rainfall. The administration and the citizens have identified the need for protecting, cultivating and reforesting the trees in the municipal area. With only 9 square meters of public green space per citizen, Guadalajara does not meet the minimal requirements set by the World Health Organization.

A city measures itself

Therefore, Guadalajara introduced IoTrees (“ Árbol IoT” in Spanish), a platform that lets citizens participate in the mapping of trees in the city and strengthens their ecological awareness. The “Internet of Trees” promotes civic activism (this works through “gamification” by introducing playful elements in the app that are supposed to motivate users to participate) and supports the city administration in their efforts of preserving the tree population. Consisting of a mobile and a web app, a network of cost-effective sensors and an interactive table for visualizations, the app allows to establish and augment an inventory of a city's trees. The ecological use of the trees becomes quantifiable and also recognizable for the citizens. The generated data creates a superior basis on which authorities in charge can make decisions: While previously a staff of only eight people was busy monitoring the 500.000 trees in the city, the app now allows to tap into the potential of the whole population.

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The hybrid mobile app was downloaded almost 500 times for the two months test phase and a “mappathon” (an information and participation event) spanning five days. Citizens not only validated 3.295 trees but even registered 399 new ones that weren't in the system before. The winner of the gamified second mappathon even managed to map out around 350 trees within two weeks on his own.

Engagement and Empowerment

The citizen's engagement goes further than the mapping of the tree population though. The feedback provided by the users also contributes to the improvement and further development of the whole IoTrees system. For example, smartphones are widely used in Guadalajara but during the test phase a problem was identified: Participants contacted the IoTrees team to inform them that the data usage of the app was not affordable for all users. Immediately, alternatives were offered: Public spaces got equipped with free-of-charge internet connections and additionally, a light-version of the app was published that allows citizens to collect data offline and wait for the upload until a WiFi connection is available.

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The digital solution “Arbol IoT” supports the mapping and measuring of Guadalajara's trees with “augmented reality” so citizens can for example measure trees against virtually displayed pictures of their friends in order to more accurately measure the trees. By providing information on the relevance of the tree population for adaption to climate change and suggestions for a more green city and improved care for the trees, the app further helps to promote public awareness of the ecological importance of a healthy tree population. So-called LiDAR technology (Light Detection Ranging) already enabled the creation of a tree register from a 3D-scan of the city but the collected data still needs to be supplemented. Only the collection of additional empirical data through the digital solution allows for a more accurate assessment and the contribution by the citizens is greatly outperforming the fielding of city staff. In the future, the IoTrees system is going to be easily deployed in and adapted for other cities because of the open-source nature of the developed software. A transfer package is going to assist in the implementation: A web platform will give access to the digital solution in order to make adjustments according to specific needs, capacities and IT-requirements.

Sector: Governance / urban development / climate change
Region: Mexico
Technology: Platform / internet of things / augmented reality
Project status: ongoing