Westerville, which calls itself a City Within a Park, has been named to the inaugural class of Tree Cities of the World.

The Arbor Day Foundation and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations named Westerville to its first class of "Tree Cities of the World" in February.

"Westerville has been a Tree City USA for more than 40 years, which is an endorsement for how well our urban-forestry efforts have been managed," said David Collinsworth, Westerville city manager. "The Tree City of the World designation shows that commitment is recognized globally. This goes hand in hand with where Westerville sits right now as a Top7 Intelligent Community. The city is very intentional about its parks and green spaces, which revolves around maintaining a healthy tree canopy."

Collinsworth said the city is proud of the contribution that makes to the environment and is honored to be in the class of the best 27 cities in the United States that meet standards of excellence.

Based on the Arbor Foundation's Tree City USA designation, which Westerville has received for 44 years, the international recognition is given to communities that meet five core standards.

According to the organization's website. treecitiesof theworld.org, the standards include:

* Establishing responsibility: Have a written statement by city leaders delegating responsibility for the care of trees within the municipal boundary to a staff member, a city department, or a group of citizens.

* Setting the rules: Have an official policy that governs the management of forests and trees.

* Knowing what you have: Maintain an updated inventory or assessment of the local tree resource for long-term planning.

* Allocating the budget: Have a dedicated annual budget for the routine implementation of the tree management plan.

* Celebrating achievements: Hold at least one annual celebration of trees to raise awareness.

Tree City pride

Matthew Ulrey, Westerville's parks and urban-forest manager, said the recognition is a nice feather in the cap for his team.

Ulrey, who started working for the city as a tree trimmer for the Parks and Recreation Department in 2002, heads the Urban Forestry Division that is in charge of more than 20,000 trees, including street and park trees and those at city facilities, such as city hall and fire stations.

He said the city employs two full-time staff members who carry out the division's work.

"I handle the administration," Ulrey said. "We have another three certified arborist on staff in park maintenance."

When Tree City USA started in 1976, Ulrey said, it was something the community and department took pride in.

"When I saw this new level of achievement, I knew there was no way I couldn't submit an application," he said. "We've always been a leader in this field. It's a next step of remaining committed to our tree care and maintenance of tree canopy in Westerville."

He said the Tree City USA program has four criteria, whereas Tree Cities of World added a fifth -- inventory and analysis of data.

"It's another benchmark of professionalism," Ulrey said.

He said Dublin and Springfield are the other two Ohio cities that earned a place in the first class.

City Within a Park

Mike Heyeck, chairman of Westerville City Council, said in the early 2000s, city staff was holding a public session on visioning the South State Street Gateway Project, when he said instinctively, "City Within a Park," when he saw renderings.

"I was council chairman and was in attendance," he said.

He said the slogan caught on with then-parks director Jody Stowers.

"I made sure she knew I did not mean only the parks," Heyeck said. "When we discussed the vision for the words, I stated that Westerville is known for its parks and its Tree City USA status. City Within a Park suggested that we create our streetscapes to look as if we are within a park. If we do that, private businesses and homeowners will instinctively invest."

Heyeck said the South State Street Gateway Project proved that with private investment exceeding more than twice the cost of the project.

"Uses of City Within a Park in time included our connectivity to parks with nearly 50 miles of bikeways and pedestrian walkways that attracted not only our residents to our parks, but also our businesses for their employees and the attraction to healthy lifestyles," he said. "It was an economic development attraction for prospective businesses to see our vision for a City Within a Park."

Heyeck said Westerville has two gems with Uptown Westerville, and the five-time national award-winning park system.

"City Within a Park leverages our strengths to create holistic park-like settings with streetscapes, trees, trails ... connecting our neighborhoods, our commercial areas, and our parks as one fabric for residents and employees who work in Westerville -- a City Within a Park," Heyeck said.