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Toronto's urban canopy beats London's but trails Vancouver's

A new project out of MIT called Treepedia ranks urban canopies in cities across the world.

Toronto’s urban forest was recently ranked fourth in the world by researchers at MIT.

Courtesy of MIT Senseable City Lab

Toronto’s urban forest was recently ranked fourth in the world by researchers at MIT.

When it comes to trees, Toronto is officially world class, but our greenery is under stress, according to local environmentalists.

Researchers at MIT recently collaborated with the World Economic Forum on a project called "Treepedia" to map urban canopies in 11 cities around the world. By counting trees using Google Street View they measured the percentage of each city’s area covered by canopy.

At 19.5 per cent, Toronto came in fourth, ahead of Paris, London and New York, but trailing Vancouver, Geneva, and Seattle.

Carlo Ratti, a professor in MIT’s department of urban studies, said the goal is to “start a conversation” so cities can “see how they compare and how they can learn from each other.”

A second phase of the project will get residents engaged by letting them annotate and track trees through Google Street View.

Toronto’s urban canopy was mapped by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology using Google Street View.

Courtesy of MIT Senseable City Lab

Toronto’s urban canopy was mapped by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology using Google Street View.

While Toronto’s highly rated canopy is cause for celebration, environmentalists say there’s a lot of work to do to keep the city’s urban forest healthy.

A June 2016 report by the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition shows local trees are under threat from poor soil quality and invasive pests like the Emerald Ash Borer.

Janet McKay, the coalition’s chair, is calling on the province to create an urban forest strategy and invest more in “green infrastructure.”

“It’s really essential in our cities. We need it and we have really ignored it and taken it for granted,” she said.

The urban forest is a “buffer” from the effects of climate change as it absorbs water during flooding, provides shade during heat waves and improves air quality, McKay added.

City parks and recreation spokesperson Matthew Cutler said the city is committed to growing the canopy to 40 per cent, despite a 3.4 per cent budget cut to the urban forestry department.