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  1. News

A 46-year-old ordinance helps Tampa earn distinction as world's best tree city

Trees line Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on a sunny day in downtown Tampa on March 27, 2018. [TONY MARRERO | Times]

TAMPA — In 1972, one of Joe Chillura's first acts as a city council member was to draft an ordinance aimed at turning downtown Tampa more green.

Now, some 46 years later, that tree ordinance has helped Tampa garner worldwide recognition as the best tree city on Earth, according to a study by the website Treepedia.

Coming in at #1, @CityofTampa as the city with the most trees! We ?? our !

Treepedia, run from an MIT lab, uses Google Street View data to measure and compare the green canopy in cities around the world, according to its website. Treepedia recently announced Tampa has the best green canopy of all the 27 cities ranked.

Chillura, an architect who was the mastermind behind the ordinance to make Tampa more green, said he was thrilled to learn about the ranking.

"I was elated. Not so proud that I wrote the ordinance, but proud that the community got behind it and made it happen," Chillura said. "This is something that can't happen without community support."

Even though Tampa is now thriving under the ordinance, it wasn't always easy. Chillura, a Tampa native, said builders and developers fought against the ordinance when it was passed — and still do today.

RELATED: Column: Don't tamper with Tampa tree ordinance

"The very next day [after ordinance was passed] a big developer mowed every tree down and several inspectors got fired as a result," Chillura said. "They want things their way and not the way of nature."

Chillura credited city staff for monitoring and enforcing the ordinance all these years and said the Treepedia recognition should make Tampa proud. He compared it to the feeling the city got when the Bucs won the Super Bowl.

Tampa was given a Green View Index of 36.1 percent, the only city to receive a grade above 30 percent. Carlo Ratti, director of the lab that runs Treepedia, said the organization is trying to get communities to take action to support green canopy cover.

"We present here an index by which to compare cities against one another," Ratti said in a news release. "Encouraging local authorities and communities to take action to protect and promote the green canopy cover."

Treepedia said a green canopy "is an important and integral part of urban life" as it helps combat extreme temperatures, urban noise, and provides a better quality of life.

Chillura may have spearheaded the ordinance, but he credits the community for helping Tampa earn the distinction.

"This is something that can't happen without community support," Chillura said. "Tampa is a community to reckon with."