Tampa named world's top 'tree city'

Tampa is known for many things: Beads, Bayshore, Bucs and Bolts. You can now add "branches" and "bark" to that list.

Tampa beat 26 other large cities worldwide to become the top city in the "Treepedia." Researchers at the MIT Senseable City Lab used Google Street View data to measure urban ‘green canopy’ which they call the "aboveground portion of trees and vegetation."

"By using [Google Street View] rather than satellite imagery, we represent human perception of the environment from the street level," the Treepedia site states.

Factoring in Tampa's population density, the city earned a 36.1% green view index, beating other large cities around the world, including notoriously tree-friendly Vancouver (25.9%), Sacramento (23.6%), and Oslo (28.8%).

"You've all seen Google Street View images. If you see some are greener than others. More vegetation, more shrubs, more grass, that is what those numbers mean," Dr. Shawn Landry, research associate professor at USF and director of USF Water Institute said. "It's still a proud number to have, Tampa being the most green in terms of eye level, but it's not the most trees, necessarily."

If you’ve ever tried to pick out your house while taking off or landing at Tampa International Airport, you’d immediately notice how thick the city’s tree canopy is. And allergy sufferers are painfully aware of the plentiful oaks around the city.

The recognition doesn't stump those whose passion is preserving the city's roots.

"We have everything from the palm trees that everyone loves to the also the historic live oaks that are really signature tree for the area," said Eric Muecke, urban forestry manager with the city of Tampa's Parks and Recreation Department.

Even after 36 years ranked as a Tree City USA Community by the Arbor Day Foundation, the city is always pining for ways to spruce up its tree cover.

"We have 14 members on staff to do everything from disease diagnosis of the trees that are out there to doing the street tree removals, street tree planting and street tree pruning," Muecke said.

"I mean, you just go everywhere and you have these wonderful, beautiful trees," said Sandra Bates.

From the leafy streets of South Tampa and Seminole Heights, the waving palms at the University of Tampa, these towering trunks mean something different to everyone.

"The trees just make it feel like I'm on vacation," said UT student Nicole Roberts.

"It purifies the air, provides shade," said Chelsea Johnson, president of Bayshore Beautiful Homeowers Association. "When you see a tree that's maybe 10 years old or 20 years old or 200 years old even, it solidifies what type of history we have here in the city. I feel very fortunate to live somewhere that appreciates the trees."

There's a larger reason behind these rankings.

“We present here an index by which to compare cities against one another, encouraging local authorities and communities to take action to protect and promote the green canopy cover,” explained Carlo Ratti, the lab’s director.

LINK: See the Treepedia maps

Top 10 tree cities, based on MIT Green View Index:
10. Frankfurt, Germany
9. Sacramento, California
8. Johannesburg, South Africa
7. Durban, South Africa
6. Montreal, Canada
5. Sydney, Australia
4. Vancouver, Canada
3. Oslo, Norway
2. Singapore
1. Tampa, Florida