Australia’s second largest city is reaping priceless public relations from a geodatabase designed for residents to report dying and dead trees.
Several years ago, Melbourne added an e-mail address to the publicly accessible ArcGIS file for each tree. But instead of reporting potentially dangerous specimens, residents are sending love letters to their favorites.
There must be something in what little water they do have over there, because the trees are e-mailing them back.
Hello Mr. Willow Leaf Peppermint, or should I say Mrs. Willow Leaf Peppermint? Do trees have genders? I hope you’ve had some nice sun today. Regards, L
Hello, L: I am not a Mr. or a Mrs., as I have perfect flowers that include both genders; the term for this is monoicous. Some tree species have only male or female flowers on individual plants and therefore have genders; they’re dioecious. Others have male flowers and female flowers on the same tree. It’s all very confusing and quite amazing how diverse and complex trees can be. Kind regards, Mr. and Mrs. Willow Leaf Peppermint (same tree)
City council members write the responses, which some people say is a waste of money (of course). But Councilor Arron Wood told local media that since the trees were going to have individual ID numbers anyway, “it was only logical we’d assign the ID numbers to an e-mail which connects these trees to the community.”
I’ll bet that whatever the city spent to develop the database is nothing compared to the free publicity it’s getting from the British Broadcasting Corp., Huffington Post, The Atlantic, and all the other reporters and editors like me who are charmed by this interaction.
So I wonder: Can public works departments here use technology to anthropomorphize assets other than trees? How would you get someone to feel warm and fuzzy about the sewer main under the street outside their door? An intersection they navigate commuting to and from work? A pump station? Even if it’s possible, who could take the time to close the communication loop by responding? Would elected officials support such an effort?
Even if they wouldn’t, the response to Melbourne’s urban forest shows how deeply people connect with these particular public assets. Trees, like us, are living, breathing organisms. Cities also are, in a way.