This Map Shows All the Trees in New York City

Tim Wallace/Descartes Labs
Tim Wallace/Descartes Labs

Trees may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture big cities, but they're an essential part of many urban landscapes. By maintaining a healthy tree population, a city can clean the air, provide shade to buildings, and improve the quality of life of its residents.

To quantify the impact trees have, officials first need to keep track of how many grow within city limits—a task that's harder than it sounds. Even with thousands of volunteers working on the ground, tallying all the trees in a city like New York can take years, according to City Lab, and such surveys often don't account for the trees growing in parks or on private property. Using artificial intelligence, researchers at the geospatial analytics startup Descartes Labs have found a way to map all the trees in major cities without taking to the streets.

To make the New York tree map below, Descartes programmed a machine learning model to identify tree canopies from satellite images. This isn't as easy as pinpointing green spots: The program had to be taught to distinguish trees from other greenery, like grass and shrubs, using artificial intelligence. This sets it apart from other tools used to map vegetation like the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), which only accounts for light wavelengths, not height.

Map of New York City's Trees.
Tim Wallace/Descartes Labs

When applied to New York, the tree-mapping technology provides a different view of the city. Some of the most heavily trafficked areas, like downtown Brooklyn and Times Square, are blank spaces on the map. Not surprisingly, parks like Forest Park in Queens and Central Park in Manhattan have the densest concentrations of trees, but some affluent neighborhoods, like the West Village and the Upper East Side, also have plenty of greenery.

New York's vegetation may be impressive by some city's standard, but it's nothing compared to what it was 400 years ago. Here's what Manhattan looked like in 1609.

[h/t City Lab]

China Wants to Build Its Own Version of Yellowstone National Park on Tibetan Plateau

Chang Jung Yu/iStock via Getty Images
Chang Jung Yu/iStock via Getty Images

Since being named the nation's first National Park in 1872, Yellowstone has become one of the most iconic sites in America. Now, China is looking to establish its own version of the park. As the Associated Press reports, China is developing a national parks system inspired by the program in the U.S., starting with a preserve partly modeled on Yellowstone.

Sanjiangyuan will be China's first national park and it's expected to debut in 2020. The park sits in the Qinghai province in Western China's Tibetan Plateau, which is home to rapid urban development as well as some of the last truly remote places on Earth. The region also contains many of the last snow leopards living in the wild. Snow leopards are a vulnerable species, and the location for China's pilot park was partly chosen to provide them a safe haven as well protect the 1500 other species of endangered and threatened animals and plants that live within its borders.

Conserving species and natural wonders are the main goals of the country's new parks system. When the plan was in development, Chinese officials visited American sites like Yosemite and Yellowstone to see what a successful national park looks like. They also invited policy makers and scientists from the U.S. and elsewhere to Qinghai province to consult on the project.

China's program won't be an exact replica of what's already been done in the United States, of course. There are currently 128,000 people living in or around the land set to become Sanjiangyuan, and they will continue to reside there when the park opens next year. Officials plan to work with local communities to manage the site; one program called “One Family, One Ranger” hires a member from each local family to be a trash collector or ranger for the park for about $255 a month.

[h/t AP]

5 Clever Ways to Reuse Prescription Bottles

Zadas_Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Zadas_Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Old prescription bottles have a way of accumulating in every drawer and cabinet of a home. During your next cleaning spree, don’t be so quick to toss them in the recycling bin (or the trash can). Those perfectly-good containers have many potential uses beyond their original purpose. From thrifty organizers to gardening projects, here are some clever ways to upcycle empty pill bottles.

1. Organize jewelry.

Tossing your jewelry loose into a box is a recipe for tangled chains and missing valuables. Keep things neat and organized by repurposing your old prescription bottles. If you have enough of them at home, you can designate separate bottles for each type of jewelry you need to store. Now, instead of spending 10 minutes looking for the mate to your favorite earring, you’ll know exactly where you left it.

2. Make travel-size toiletry bottles.

Buying travel-size toiletries is a hassle—and throwing away your full-sized bottles at airport security when you inevitably forget to buy the smaller ones is even more frustrating. Reusing old pill bottles saves you a trip to the drug store. When packing, just squeeze a dollop of your shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, and whatever other liquid products you need into separate containers. You can customize the amount you need for the length of your trip, and then wash and save the bottles when you get home. But the best part is that you won’t need to wait until you get off the plane to moisturize.

3. Sort coins.

You can’t spend coins when they’re loose in your drawers and the pockets of your winter coat. Old prescription bottles are the perfect size for organizing spare change. Keep a few empty bottles out at home so you can empty your purse and pockets after you walk in the door. You can even use different bottles to separate coins by value, which will make your life easier if you ever get around to rolling those coins and taking them to the bank.

4. Grow seedlings.

An old pill bottle makes a great first home for any plants you’re trying to grow from seeds. Just stuff damp cotton balls into the bottom of the canister, add the seeds, and cover them with a layer of soil. You can even attach a magnet to the side of the bottle to make a decorative mini-planter for your fridge. Once the seedling is big enough, transfer it to a larger home and find new seeds for your upcycled plant container.

5. Store spices.

Do you need matching containers for your dried herbs and spices? Before spending extra money, see if you have any prescription bottles in your medicine cabinet at home. The containers fit snugly onto a spice rack and are just wide enough for you to scoop a tablespoon past the opening. Plus, the same amber plastic designed to protect medications from harsh light is just as effective at protecting spices.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER