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London is a forest, and this map explores its trees
TreeTalk finds rare arboreal treasures among London's common foliage.
- The world's largest urban forest, London counts nearly as many trees as it does people.
- TreeTalk identifies about 700,000 of them, both common species and rarities.
- Explore them yourself, or have the algorithm pick out a route from a starting point of your choice.
World's largest urban forest
View of London from Sawyer's Hill in Richmond Park.
Image: Maxwell Hamilton, CC BY 2.0
Did you know that London qualifies as a forest? The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization defines a forest as a contiguous area with at least 10 percent tree canopy cover. Greater London's trees manage more than double that (21 percent).
But then there are no less than 8.4 million of the leafy bastards standing around London's 600 square miles – that's almost one for every Londoner. So, it's not entirely surprising that London is, according to the UK's own Forestry Commission, 'the world's largest urban forest.'
Similar to its human inhabitants, London's trees are a cosmopolitan bunch with origins all over the world. No British city has a wider diversity of tree species. You can now explore that diversity in all its glory thanks to TreeTalk, a web page which identifies 700,000 individual trees throughout Greater London and generates tree walks from the starting point of your choice.
If you're currently confined to Britain's metropolis, the web page – also available as a smartphone app (Android only for now) – is an interesting way to spice up your daily exercise walks and learn a bit about your immediate surroundings. And if you're a London junkie pandemically deprived of a visit, TreeTalk offers a novel way to virtually stroll through your favorite city.
A rather rarer import from Wuhan: the Chinese photinia.
Zoom in and click on any tree; or type in an address or postal code to auto-generate a walking tour of the area. You'll find species that are common as muck, and with just a little bit of luck you'll come across trees in three categories of rarity: bronze (less than 400 specimens throughout the city), silver (75 or less), and gold (10 or less).
For example, go to Westbourne Gardens, in West London's Paddington area: there you'll find the only four specimens of the Chinese photinia that TreeTalk has identified so far in all of London. Widely used as a greening plant in Chinese cities, the tree is omnipresent along all major avenues in Wuhan – yes, that Wuhan.
Yet Wuhanites are less than keen on the semen-like smell its flowers spread each spring, and some have called for the trees to be replaced. No such complaints seem to have been registered yet by the photinias' Paddingtonian neighbors.
Older than the dinosaurs
A tree walk starting and finishing at Cavendish Square, a leafy refuge just off Oxford Circus.
Another example: set your sights on lovely Cavendish Square, a small park just off busy Oxford Circus popular with office workers on their lunch break. The square is dominated by London planes (#20 on the map), one of the more common street trees in Central London.
TreeTalk's auto-generated route around the area leads past common trees like the ash (#1), the chanticleer pear (#3) and the fastigiate Norwegian maple (#6), but also along such rarities as the monkey puzzle tree (#9; only 32 found so far in London), the hackberry (#17; and only 17 in London) and the variegated wedding cake tree (#11; only 15 in London).
Less rare but still remarkable are a ginkgo (#4), a species older than the dinosaurs; one of less than 200 olive trees in London (#12); and the tree of heaven (#16), also known as the 'ghetto palm', because it thrives on wasteland.
From A to B
A walk south of the river, past some of London's rare and common tree species.
Yet another option: pick an A and a B, and see which trees connect your walk between both points. Like this amble from London Bridge to Parliament Square, along omnipresent species (and their variants) like ash (#1), lime (#2, #5), maple (#4, #7, #13), birch (#14), and cherry (#16, #17), and rarer ones like the box elder (#3), the Japanese privet (#9), and the Portuguese laurel (#11) – only two of which have been identified in London.
#20 on this walk is, again, a London plane. Ubiquitous in the center, this tree is considered 'native' to the city, but its past is a bit more complicated than that. The species was discovered in the 17th century in a nursery garden in Vauxhall, on the south bank of the Thames.
London planes in Berkeley Square.
Image: Justinc, CC BY-SA 2.0
'Discovered' is the right word, as it was unknown before. The London plane may be a hybrid between an Oriental plane, brought to Britain in the 16th century, and an American sycamore, imported in the early 17th century. One of each was indeed present in that Vauxhall nursery.
As it turned out, the 'new' species was well suited to its urban environment: it's not too picky with regard to soil, it requires little root space, and its flaky bark easily sheds pollutants. It flourishes despite pollarding and can grow up to 30 meters tall.
Because of those qualities, the London plane was chosen for mass plantings across the city, to provide much-needed greenery during its rapid expansion in the 19th century. But the London plane is not just hardy, it's also quite ornamental. The 30-odd specimens planted in Berkeley Square in 1789 are among the oldest and grandest in London.
Why 'leafy' means 'affluent'
Trees are useful, valuable and pleasant assets for any city.
Trees are an important asset to any city, and not just for their grandeur. They provide shade and prevent flooding, store carbon, and help cool nearby buildings. A recent iTree study figures that London's trees suck out 2,261 tons of pollution from the air each year and that their total environmental benefit amounts to about £132.7 ($164.6) million per year.
But grandeur also counts for something. Literally, in fact: It's been shown that tree-lined streets boost house prices by as much as 15 percent. No wonder 'leafy' is code for 'affluent'.
Despite its iconic status, the London plane is not the city's most prevalent species. In Inner London, it's birch (12 percent), followed by lime (6 percent) and apple (6 percent) trees. Sycamore (8 percent), English oak (8 percent) and hawthorn (7 percent) are the most common in Outer London.
The iTree study recorded 126 species, not counting the 2,000 species and varieties found at Kew Gardens.
Thomas Hardy's handiwork
The Hardy Tree: 'designed' by Thomas Hardy, before he turned his hand at writing.
Image: cisko66, CC BY 3.0
For its part, TreeTalk describes more than 600 species, but it is far from complete. It provides information on just 700,000 specimens – not even 10 percent of Greater London's overall total. That's because some of London's 33 boroughs have not yet or not completely provided data on the trees in their area.
For another take on London's arboreal heritage, check out the Great Trees of London, a collection of 54 of the city's most remarkable trees, as chosen by the Londoners themselves.
This list was born in the aftermath of the Great Storm of 1987, which felled around 15 million trees across the country. The Countryside Commission selected 41 much-loved survivors suggested by the public, a list that was later expanded to 61 – sadly, six trees have since been lost.
They include such venerable ancients as the Royal Oak of Richmond Park, which is around 750 years old; the Hardy Tree at St Pancras Old Church, surrounded by a macabre arrangement of decommissioned gravestones; one of the London planes in Berkeley Square; and the Totteridge Yew, which may be more than 2,000 years old – older than London itself.
Strange Maps #1028
Check out TreeTalk here.
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.
Scientists regenerate damaged spinal cord nerve fibers with designer protein, helping paralyzed mice walk again.
- Researchers from Germany use a designer protein to treat spinal cord damage in mice.
- The procedure employs gene therapy to regenerate damaged nerve fibers that carry signals to and from the brain.
- The scientists aim to eventually apply the technique to humans.