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Assessing Neighborhood-Scale Impacts of the Urban Forest on Air Quality and Human Health

San Jose, California

Featured image for the project, Assessing Neighborhood-Scale Impacts of the Urban Forest on Air Quality and Human Health

Image courtesy of Rhonda Berry


The Challenge

Our City Forest was formed in part as a result of research documenting the benefits of the urban forest, and has worked to plant trees in under-resourced communities in and around San José to offset the impacts of climate change on air quality, human health, and other environmental factors. The human health benefits of increased canopy cover are well-established, and there has been substantial research investigating the interactions between canopy cover and factors such as air quality and urban heat islands.

Across the San José metropolitan area, air quality, canopy cover, and other environmental factors vary significantly from neighborhood to neighborhood. The short- and long-term consequences of living and working in areas of poor air quality and within urban heat islands are well-known; however, in order to understand how these varying environmental conditions impact neighborhoods differently throughout urban communities, the environmental and human health data must be available at the neighborhood scale.

The goal of this project is to establish what information already exists for this area and ensure that this baseline data is accessible in a centralized location. That baseline data can then be used to explore the relationships between canopy cover, air pollution, and human health outcomes, and to communicate those relationships to both local communities and municipal government.  The process of gathering data and preliminary data exploration may identify data gaps (e.g. an uneven distribution of air quality sensors) that could be addressed in future studies.

 Project Outputs

  •       Phase 1: Exploring Existing Research

o   Compile existing datasets

o   Create preliminary data summary

o   Create data exploration tool   

  •       Phase 2:

o   If there is sufficient data, conduct a more quantitative analysis of the existing data

o   If there is not sufficient data, create a report of data gaps and/or write up project proposal to fill those gaps 


Project Team

Project Team

 Community Leadership


Rhonda Berry, CEO, Our City Forest, San José, CA

Rhonda Berry is the founder and executive leader of Our City Forest, an innovative urban forestry nonprofit serving San José/Santa Clara County since 1994. She has a B.A. in social work from U.C. Berkeley, and has completed two years of coursework for a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning. She has been a community organizer, nonprofit administrator, public administrator, and environmental leader.    


Her lifelong passions include race and gender equity, protection of endangered species, environmental stewardship, and social justice, interests which have shaped the work of Our City Forest.


In 2017, Our City Forest was awarded the Senator Harkin Award for Outstanding Community Service, one of only two nonprofits in the country to receive this honor. Rhonda was honored as a Woman of Influence by the Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2015, and received the YWCA Silicon Valley Tribute to Women Award in 2019. Rhonda is proudest of being the mother of a courageous and amazing daughter who has become a fierce social justice advocate herself. 




Scientist Wanted

Desired skills and qualifications:

  • 5-10 hours/month commitment, including project calls, independent analysis and investigation work, and possible in-person meetings and collaborations
  • Public health expertise/experience working with human health outcomes data
  • Experience with air quality analysis preferred
  • Comfortable with data analysis and visual presentation, with the ability to clearly communicate scientific results for diverse audience types
  • Demonstrated experience and/or interest in community-based science
  • Demonstrated experience and/or interest in citizen science
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach and engagement
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Competent and open to new ideas
  • Relaxed, easy going personality with a good sense of humor
  • The scientist should be able to join video calls (including audio / video / remote collaboration on documents) regularly

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!