Bren Graduate Project: Improving Equity in Urban Forestry

Equity in Urban forestry from Bren School

June 26, 2020 | written by Joanne Pham


For the next year, a team of graduate students from UCSB will work with PlanIT Geo™ to develop a more comprehensive urban forestry assessment tool to support equity in urban forestry. 


In effect, this tool will advance environmental justice for PlanIT Geo’s clients. These Master’s students are part of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management (MESM)

Unique to this Master’s program, each student works with four to five others to complete a collaborative capstone project to solve an environmental problem. Each team works with a real-world client, who may be from the industry, government, or non-government sector. By the end of the project, each team presents a final report, project brief, poster, and website publishing project results and analysis.


Called TreesPlease, the team was first introduced to PlanIT Geo through Maegan Blansett, who is a Bren alum. TreesPlease was interested in the nonprofit’s urban forestry practices, TreePlotter software, and dedication to the local community. In terms of research, TreePlease became fascinated by the ecosystem services provided by urban forestry but then became concerned about the unequal distribution of canopy coverage and its benefits.

Palm trees shade the front of Bren Hall on a sunny day

The project will focus on Tacoma because of PlanIT Geo’s extensive data from working with the city. You can view the city of Tacoma’s One Canopy website to learn more.  For the last three months, the group has worked with Maegan and Ian to develop the following plan: 


  1. Review methodologies to quantify air quality, stormwater and runoff management, and human health impacts associated with urban forestry
  2. Apply those methodologies in Tacoma using information from PlanIT Geo’s Urban Tree Canopy Assessment and Urban Forestry Management Plan
  3. Develop an equity index and geospatial tool to determine Tacoma neighborhoods that would most improve from additional urban forestry practices
  4. Extend the tool across the Pacific Northwest to create a list of disadvantaged cities that would most benefit from PlanIT Geo’s attention

In summary, PlanIT Geo will more effectively assess ecosystem services provided by urban forestry and redistribute benefits for people that need them the most. By the end of the project in June 2021, the company will be able to provide unique deliverables for its clients. Other urban forestry organizations might also be interested in environmental justice. However, the tool developed from this collaboration will be one of the most extensive measures of the change in welfare after PlanIT Geo’s involvement in a project and will secure a longer-lasting relationship with its clients. The tool will also provide marginalized communities an opportunity to do their own research through publicly available data. A copy of the workplan can be downloaded through pdf.


TreesPlease involves Rachel Conway, Raymond Marrokal-Boffman, Joanne Pham, and Veronica Weber. They just finished their first year of graduate school, and most of them will continue summer internships with urban forestry nonprofits while also continuing research for their group project.

Bren group project members of TreesPlease in casual clothes smile for a screenshot while supporting equity in urban forestry

In fact, Joanne will be joining PlanIT Geo in expanding its marketing and Urban Forestry Consulting departments.


Rachel will work with the director of TreePeople in Los Angeles on current and future planting projects.  Meanwhile, Veronica will be interning at Canopy in Palo Alto on exploring carbon sequestration quantification.


Raymond has decided to focus full-time on working on the group project and testing different models to adopt when TreesPlease reconvenes in the fall. The team has set up their website, where their project summary, contact information, and full bios are listed.

PlanIT Geo employees who attended the internal “Mappy Hour” meeting on May 28th will have already met the team and listened to the initial outline of the project, but if you missed them, there will be more presentations. Along with all other Bren 2021 group projects, TreesPlease’s final presentation will be on April 23rd and all are welcome to join. Usually, the presentations are in-person. However, virtual accommodations will be made in case quarantine continues. 


The Bren School has over almost 25 years of Master’s group projects, ranging from environmental conservation to environmental entrepreneurship projects. If you are interested in exploring more of them, please visit Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

Read the Workplan Now
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