How are forests becoming digital environments?
Forests are crucial to acting on environmental change. They are key contributors to the carbon cycle and biodiversity, as well as air and water quality. At the same time, digital technologies are reshaping forests in order to manage and enhance their environmental contributions. However, these new technologies are generating social-political impacts that have yet to be extensively researched. This project addresses the crucial question of how forests are becoming “smart” through the increasing use of digital technologies to manage these environments. Smart forests span locations from Germany to New York City to Thailand, and from remote to urban areas.
While there is now extensive research on smart cities, other “smart” environments have been less well studied. This is problematic, since it is necessary to assess how these technologies enable and constrain particular modes of governance and engagement. Without this research, smart environments such as smart forests run the risk of producing social-political inequities and undemocratic governance, as has been identified with smart cities. Using inventive digital practices, fieldwork, participatory workshops and mapping, the research will investigate the transformation of forests and forest communities through digital technologies. Through five project areas, the research will analyze the ways in which forest technologies are transforming practices of observing, mitigating, participating in, and regulating environmental change.
In October 2022, we launched our research platform the Smart Forests Atlas—a living archive and virtual fieldsite exploring how digital technologies are transforming forests. The Atlas platform includes open data from the Smart Forests project, and provides tools for researchers, stakeholders and publics to gather, explore, analyse, annotate, reflect on and reimagine smart forest knowledges and technologies.
Explore Smart Forests.
The Smart Forests project is led by Professor Jennifer Gabrys and is part of the Planetary Praxis research group based in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge.