DOWNTOWN — Thom Snelling's landscape is looking a little different these days. His Jackson Street office desk is stacked with dog-eared magazines and photocopied articles, mostly dealing with gardening, recycling and global warming. A Kermit the Frog greeting card on his shelf reads, "It's not easy being green ..."
Just a few months after Mayor Pam Iorio named Snelling Tampa's first "green officer," he's up to his eyeballs in it.
But the title seems to fit. He's also the city's director for growth management and development services and, as the guy who overlooks every building project that affects city soil, Snelling has the most power to regulate how those developments affect the environment. Coincidentally, he has quite a green thumb, too.
City Times talked with Snelling last week about Tampa's efforts to be more environmentally conscious and about ways everyday people can help.
Tampa's first green officer: Why you?
My general (educational) background is in urban anthropology and urban studies, where you take a very holistic approach to urban growth. When you talk about being more green, there are building aspects to it, there are conservation aspects, there are energy efficiency aspects to it ... My department has the ability to look at all these things.
Everything my department does, from tree preservation to rezoning to historic preservation, has the ability to impact the environment. Because of that, I have been continually involved in those (environmental) decisions and the mayor got to see who I was. She was comfortable with me as her choice for green officer.
What is the city doing to be environment-friendly that the public may not be aware of?
It's huge in the water department, because we've been talking about water for decades — everything from low-flow toilets to water restrictions to distributing low water-flow showerheads.
If you look up at the city streetlights, you might see little dots of light instead of the one bright light, and that LED lighting uses 85 percent less energy than standard lights. Same with the walk/don't walk flashing lights on street corners.
The Police Department's new District 3 building was built with recycled materials. There are light sensors in the offices and conference rooms that turn the lights off when people are out of the room for a certain amount of time. It has low-flow fixtures, water-efficient fountains and toilets. It was built on a brownfield site, which they purposely picked and cleaned up.
What should Tampa citizens do to support the city's efforts?
Anything you can do to support your local goods and services, you're reducing wear and tear on the planet by keeping trucks off the road and carbon out of the air. If you can get an organic apple from a market in Ruskin, it's better than buying an apple from Washington at the store.
Even if you don't believe the science and don't believe in global warming and melting ice caps and all that, I don't care. Don't you want to save on your electric and gas bill? Why would you not want to do that?
What do you do?
I yell at my kids to turn the lights off. (Laughs)
I carpool. My wife and I drive to work together (from Brandon) or use the bus. I had a new high-efficiency air-conditioning unit put in, and we replaced our carpet with tile and wood floors, which keep the house cooler.
I plant edible food and aloe at the house. I've actually been a gardener all my life. I use snails that eat slugs, and use natural soils and compost and rain barrels.
It's the little things that make a difference. You don't have to be this crusading, Mother Jones kind of person. You do simple things like following watering restrictions. Change your light bulbs from standard to CFL. Don't litter. That's old-school stuff.