Joining forces with mother nature has paid off for a team of graduate students and staff in the Faculty of Environmental Design's Urban Design Studio.
The group was recently awarded a Regional Citation Award from the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects for a project on Calgary's inner city tree population.
"We're thrilled about the award," exclaimed Dr. Beverly Sandalack, Associate Professor, Urban Design Co-ordinator and project organizer. "It's an acknowledgment of significance and innovation and it provides recognition that what we're doing is of some value."
The project consists of an inventory of public trees in Calgary's Beltline district, which includes South Downtown, West Victoria Park and Connaught. It was created last summer by Sandalack, faculty instructor Andrei Nicolai, and Urban Design senior graduate students Julio Santa and Zhang Jinwei.
"We [the faculty] try to do real world projects and make them relevant for the community," said Sandalack.
Sandalack, a Beltline resident, explained that the project's ties to the communities caught the attention of the CSLA award jury, who favoured projects with an awareness of both social and environmental issues.
"The district wanted to understand what they had in the way of urban forests," said Sandalack, describing Beltline citizen's growing concerns over declining tree numbers.
Sandalack and her team found that the City's outdated inventory of the district's aging,weather-worn trees had resulted in several tree replacement needs.
"As part of the project we worked with [Beltline] community members, taught them how to identify trees, and then together went through the community and recorded the status of every public tree," said Sandalack.
Santa and Zhang created an urban forest map from the data in a digitized and a manual format, using graphics to highlight Sandalack's planting recommendations.
"These students have an award-winning project to put on their resumés," said Sandalack. "The inventory gives the community the knowledge of its own place and the tool for managing it themselves."
Kevin Allen, Executive Director of the U of C's NUTV television station and the Chair of Connaught's Inner City Forest Committee, says the project's practical application has already been tested.
"We're using [the inventory] as a lobbying tool with the city," stated Allen. "We can say, 'look, we've done your work for you, now we want these trees, we want them here and this is why.' [The ICFC] just presented the inventory to the city last week and [the city] couldn't believe it. They think it's a great study."
Sandalack and Allen agreed that maintaining green space is an issue that the city and inner city communities need to address together.
"Trees make communities friendlier and bring people to them," said Allen. "[Calgary's] downtown communities do not come near to having high enough quality green space."
The "magic management plan," as Sandalack described the project, could give Calgary's weakening urban forest the boost it needs.