Landscape Architecture Faculty Ko and Lee Part of a $1.5M NSF Grant Studying Tree Equity

Fall at the University of Oregon

Landscape Architecture Associate Professor Yekang Ko and Career Instructor Junhak Lee will investigate how urban forest assessment and valuation tools affect decision-making around urban tree equity thanks to a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant as part of a multi-institutional team.

Led by the University of North Texas, other researchers include Alexandra Ponette-González (Principal Investigator) and Matthew Fry, University of North Texas; John Van Stan, Cleveland State University; Ashley Coles, Texas Christian University; and MiHyun Kim, Texas State University. 

“There is a growing list of digital tools, including the widely used i-Tree, that are being made available in the urban forest management space but haven’t had enough research around how they inform policy and decision-making,” said Lee.

“Many communities are eager to advocate the equity perspective of urban greening; it is very exciting to be engaging in this timely study,” explained Ko. “The work is built to be extremely collaborative beyond academic research, working with cities and community groups, engaging the public through interactive exhibitions and displays created with our findings, and hosting online discussions with urban forest management professionals.”

The research team will partner with the USDA Forest Service, the Davey Institute, PlanIT Geo, Inc, local urban foresters and community organizations from three focus cities: Denton, Texas, Cleveland, Ohio, and Eugene, Oregon. The research team will also recruit a diverse group of undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented communities at each institution to support the research.

In this five-year study, Ko and Lee will study decision-making governance on tree equity and air pollution removal by trees in Eugene, Oregon, partnering with Scott Altenhoff, the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program Manager. They will also directly work with local environmental justice groups and the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History for community engagement through focus group interviews and participatory exhibits. The ultimate goal of this project is to advise how these digital tools can be improved to support just and inclusive urban forest planning and management.

Ko and Lee have been collaborating with Dr. Ponette-González for many years. Their study on how urban form and meteorology drive elemental carbon deposition in tree canopies and soils has recently been published in Environmental Pollution and included former UO Geography doctoral student Dongmei Chen and Landscape Architecture doctoral student Evan Elderbrock as co-authors and graduate employees who participated in the study.

Read on UNT geographers exploring technology’s influence on urban forest management and planning