Eugene loves its Mother. Does St. Petersburg?

The Oregon city is tops, but this city meets a few crunchy-granola criteria.

By Nick Johnson
Published April 22, 2007

Last June, The Green Guide announced the Top 10 green cities in the country. The list was compiled from surveys sent out to metropolitan areas with populations of 100,000 or more, 251 in all.

Eugene, Ore., earned first place, followed by Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore. California had three cities in the top 10.

St. Petersburg didn't make the top 25 - or the list.

The reason? City officials didn't complete the survey.

Paul McRandle, deputy editor of The Green Guide, said the surveys were sent to the mayor's office of each city but were extensive, so few cities completed them. Orlando was the only place in Florida that responded.

The surveys evaluate how green a city is based on air and water quality, green design, energy use and production, and how affordable the city is to live in.

"If you have more money, you can afford to spend more of it on green options, but you should not have to be rich to live in a green city," McRandle said. "These benefits should be available to everyone."

The benefits can be anything from bike lanes to green space. St. Petersburg, which has 2,300 acres of parks and recreation space, has earned the Tree City USA title repeatedly from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

It has been given Blue Wave certification from the Clean Beaches Council, for beaches that maintain a certain environmental standard.

And St. Petersburg was named the first green city by the Florida Green Building Coalition.

Mike Connors, fiscal services administrator for the city, oversees environmental issues. He said St. Petersburg has had the largest reclaimed-water system in the country for the past 25 years, and a yard waste recycling program almost as old.

Recently the city has been buying flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles to reduce omissions. Flex-fuel vehicles are able to operate on methane or biodiesel, which the city plans to use in about half the truck and construction fleet this year.

Connors also said the city also does things as simple as replacing incandescent lights with compact fluorescent bulbs to save energy, and issuing coffee cups to city workers so they aren't using disposable ones.

"We feel good about what we're doing, but by no means are we done," Connors said. "There's a multitude of areas that need ongoing attention."

Darden Rice of the Sierra Club cites one: "It's a no-brainer: curbside recycling."

Rice said that on an individual level, residents can conserve energy by buying energy-efficient appliances when the old ones go, replacing old windows and adding weather stripping to doors. Also, she said, try to drive less often and make sure your tires are fully inflated.

Another area to address is development. Frank Muller-Karter, a professor at the College of Marine Science at USF St. Petersburg, said the bay is cleaner than it was 30 years ago, but as the city develops, more land is paved and more traffic is on the roads, which means more oil and pollutants run off into Tampa Bay. Green areas need to be put in place as buffers.

"It's important that we create grass areas that filter the water before it runs into the bay and coastal waters," Muller-Karter said. "If we're affecting our own health and food sources in the waters where we fish, we should be paying attention."

One thing everyone can agree on is the need for education to create greener surroundings. The city has a program for new employees to educate them on the environmental initiatives in place.

"Education is a slow-release pill, but it's one that we're going to have to take," Muller-Karter said.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8215.