• Photo: Giuliana Casimirri
    Citizen scientist volunteers learn to measure the height of a tree as part of their project to improve air quality in Hamilton, Ont. (Photo: Giuliana Casimirri)

The Hamilton Naturalists’ Club and Environment Hamilton will use a team of citizen scientists for a $345,000 project that aims to improve air quality in six neighbourhoods in the Ontario city.

Beginning this spring, volunteers with the Trees Please program will measure air pollution and collect data on the number and health of the trees in the chosen neighbourhoods, all of which are located in the lower city (everything below the Niagara Escarpment, which runs through Hamilton).

Here, Jen Baker, the land trust manager at the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, discusses the project and the challenges that some Hamilton neighbourhoods face.

Why does Hamilton need this project?

Hamilton’s poor air quality is well documented and a concern for many residents; air particulate pollution is highest in neighbourhoods near the industrial core. Research shows poorer neighbourhoods with low forest cover struggle with bad air quality. Neighbourhood action plans identified the need to increase vegetation to beautify communities and enhance forest cover, and this is seen as a priority for the lower-city neighbourhoods. Urban tree inventories will enable community members to assess their urban forest’s health, and simple air monitoring technology means community volunteers can collect useful air data.

How is the plan being executed?

There are a number of pieces to the project, including neighbourhood walkabouts for volunteers to learn about the project and get initial training, specific tree inventory and air-quality monitoring training and then collecting and analyzing the data. There will also be some tree-planting activities with workshops on how to properly care for trees, seed collection, understanding the air quality monitoring results and the benefits that trees can bring.

Why did you decided to get the help of citizens?

Many Hamiltonians, especially those living close to Hamilton’s industrial core, are concerned about poor air quality. We know people are willing to get involved in local air-quality monitoring; air-monitoring projects have successfully engaged more than 220 volunteers over the last year. We also know that neighbourhoods near our industrial core want more trees and other vegetation in their area.

What will they be tasked with doing?

Volunteers will be collecting data on the trees in their neighbourhood, helping gauge the health of their neighbourhood's urban forest. They will also be collecting data on air quality using air monitors. Once the data is analyzed they will be working with us to determine strategic spots to plant trees based on the data. They will then help plant and care for the trees.

What are your expectations of the project?

Some longer-term results that we're hoping for are: that air quality will continue to improve as the trees grow and absorb pollutants as residents add plantings; that urban forest health will continue to improve, helping to mitigate the impact of climate change while increasing community aesthetics and neighbourhood pride; that neighbourhoods can extend the tree inventory area and upload their data; that volunteers can continue to monitor air quality to help determine the effectiveness of the plantings and to collect data in new neighbourhoods; and that what people learn from the workshops will allow residents to increase plantings at a low cost.