Learn Portland's roots through new PSU tree history project


Walk through any of Portland's neighborhoods and you're bound to see some towering trees breaching the skyline.

A Portland State University project is documenting the history of some of the city's oldest residents on a website called Canopy Story.

“We really want to look around our city and try to understand the things that we really take for granted,” said PSU Professor and Researcher Vivek Shandas.

In 2014, local municipalities pooled some money to send a plane on a mission to find trees over 50 feet tall. University researchers found 13.1 million trees across the Portland metro area.

The university used the data to create a forum where residents can become amateur historians.

“My grandpa’s house just had these beautiful dogwoods outside of it,” said PSU senior Madelyn Miller. “And I just remember being so fascinated by the bark. They’re not significantly large or old or historically significant but they’re just, I have a great memory of them.”

“When we have a lot of stories about a tree, we can actually start inferring meaning about that tree," Shadas said.

The site could potentially save Portland's oldest trees from being cut down.

“If there is pressure to cut down the tree; especially what I like to call a large charismatic mega flora; we have some stories,” said Shandas. “We have some kind of community input about what that tree means and whither it needs to be cut.”

The idea is to get Portlanders to share their stories about trees on the easy-to-use website.

“We really want to know the emotions and the feelings and the relationships people have with these spaces because that’s what makes a space sustainable. That’s what makes a space inviting, friendly and safe for people,” said Miller. “I think it is a really exciting way for people to get their own public histories out in to the world. Because very often history can seem very stuffy and it doesn’t include everybody.”

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