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Nearby Nature:

A Look Into Landscapes Across Detroit's Schools


A project using GIS by Eva Roos and Kat Shiffler


How does the environment surrounding a school affect student performance and well-being? 


There is a growing body of research that links views of nature with “attention restoration” (increased ability to focus) and decreased stress and anxiety. We used GIS to examine the relationship between Detroit’s schools and “nearby nature”— defined as sites with substantial amount of vegetation and minimal incidences of blight. 


Through a suitability study analyzing land cover types — tree cover and open space — overlayed with blight violations for 2018 and 2019, we were able to analyze extended school environments (quarter-mile radius) across Detroit. We then “zoomed in” to look at three specific schools to more closely examine land cover types for schools with high, medium, and low quality “nearby nature” in the surrounding neighborhood landscape —deemed most suitable for landscape intervention. Finally, as students of landscape architecture, we made evidence-based design recommendations for this priority school environment.




We obtained shapefiles of land use for Detroit along with school locations and blight violations. By converting polygon and points to raster, we assigned relative values for the presence of blight, open spaces, and tree canopy. Using zonal statistics, we summed the raster values of each of our layers within the quarter-mile buffer of each school. We then reclassified our layers into values 1-5, 1 lowest quality nature to 5 highest quality nature, using 5 categories determined by natural breaks. Finally, we used the raster calculator to sum up the values for each school [(2 x trees) + ‘open space’ + ‘blight’]—assigning trees double the weight because of their especially well-documented benefits to attention restoration.

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