Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 233–246 | Cite as

A time series of urban forestry in Los Angeles

  • Thomas Welch Gillespie
  • Stephanie Pincetl
  • Shea Brossard
  • Jenny Smith
  • Sassan Saatchi
  • Diane Pataki
  • Jean-Daniel Saphores


There has been an increasing interest in the evolution of urban forests. This research uses historic and digital aerial photography to quantify changes in tree density in Los Angeles, California since the 1920’s. High-resolution geographic information system analysis (4 to 6 time periods) of three regions (San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, Los Angeles Basin) of Los Angeles reveals that there has not always been an increase in tree density with time. Tree densities on public and private land were highest in the 1940’s in Hollywood, while the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles Basin experienced a near linear increase in tree density on both private and public land since the 1920’s. When historic tree density reconstructions were examined for the 15 Los Angeles city council districts from the 1920’s, 1950’s and 2006, most districts in Los Angeles have experienced a significant increase in tree density, however, there has been wide variation in tree densities among city council districts. Trees densities have generally been higher on private land since the 1920’s and currently tree densities on private land are significantly higher than on public land. Results suggest the evolution of urban forests in Los Angeles mirrors the dynamics of urban forests in desert and grassland cities. It is possible to reconstruct the development of urban forests in sections of cities using historic and contemporary aerial photography. We estimated that Los Angeles averages approximately 104 trees per hectare (82 private land, 22 public land) based on 2006 imagery at 0.3 m resolution, however, field validation suggests that we identified only 73% of trees. Although there is still space to plant trees on public land, private land owners will need to be heavily involved in order to achieve the goals of Los Angeles’ Million Tree Initiative.


Aerial photography Geographic information system Los Angeles Public and private land Time series Tree density Urban forests 



We thank Lisa Sarno, Lauren Sullivan, and Kirsten O’Neil for comments on this manuscript. Chase Langford provided assistance with graphics. We thank John DeGoode and Luis Aguilar for help with field validation. We thank the National Science Foundation (NSF HSD 0624177) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA-G2006-STAR-H1) for funding this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Welch Gillespie
    • 1
  • Stephanie Pincetl
    • 2
  • Shea Brossard
    • 1
  • Jenny Smith
    • 1
  • Sassan Saatchi
    • 3
  • Diane Pataki
    • 4
  • Jean-Daniel Saphores
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Institute of the EnvironmentUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CALTECHPasadenaUSA
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of California IrvineIrvineUSA
  5. 5.Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of California IrvineIrvineUSA

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