Last May, an EF 5 tornado hit western Kansas. In Greensburg, the storm leveled every building, picked up cars and tossed them into rooftops, demolished the streets, left more than two-thirds of the town’s population homeless and killed 11 people.
Out of this tragedy, an opportunity arose to reconstruct and rejuvenate not only the buildings but also the town itself. As is the story for many small farm towns, the future of Greensburg looked bleak. Even before the tornado, jobs were growing scarce and the population was shrinking by two percent every year.
To educate and motivate the townspeople to create the vision and become involved in the transformation, some residents started a community-owned nonprofit called Greensburg GreenTown. The organization offers townspeople technical counseling for green programs, an energy rater who will assist homeowners to maximize energy savings at home, as well as access to a plethora of educational materials in their library, on their website and educational classes and lectures.
Many Greensburg residents are seeing this move toward sustainability not as a push toward granola-crunching, hippie-dom, but as something their great grandparents would have supported – a wise use of what they have and independence.
The mindful reconstruction measures are bringing more than just innovative design and sustainable development to the town; the new ideas are bringing youth interest back to Greensburg. Levi Schmidt, 15, told NPR that before the tornado, he had no intention of coming back.
“I was going to go to college, and who knows where. This community was dying.” Schmidt said. “Now I'm definitely coming back, and I know a good majority of my friends are.”
The town’s efforts have garnered the attention of green savvy business interested in investing in renewable energy, such as various biodiesel companies, GM and Google, who is interested in opening a wind-powered data center nearby.
Is this the wave of the future? Is this how we should approach the rebuilding of areas in the midwest that are going to need a new plan and a new way of doing things after the flooding subsides? There are smart ways to improve each and every community and make the world around us greener. This story is proof that an American town can get knocked on its ass and jump right back up and do something smart about it.
The model we see in Greensburg should give everyone hope.