Before the evening of May 4, 2007, the tiny town of Greensburg was losing population and dying the slow death seen in so many small towns across the nation.
After the evening of May 4, 2007, when an EF5 tornado ripped through town destroying 95% of the structures and killing 11 people, the town was all but dead.
But one week later, inspired by a concept paper presented to the town council, the people of Greensburg were working towards a resolution to not only rebuild the town, but to do so with an over-arching emphasis on “green building” and a commitment to build all city buildings to LEED -platinum standards.
While this may not seem to be an extraordinary story today, it is important to remember that 5 years ago, green building was far less mainstream than it is now. It is also important to take into account the fact that this disaster hit the middle of Kansas -a region known for its’ conservative leanings- where environmental activism is often viewed as a liberal cause. Considering these circumstances, the fact that the tiny community of Greensburg could turn out to be the first community in the country to embrace this new model for rebuilding is nothing short of extraordinary.
Today, while people of Greensburg are settling into a more paced daily life on the Kansas plains, they do so in a town that has the most LEED-certified buildings per capita in the world (including, but not limited to the city schools, the hospital, the bank, the courthouse, and even the local John Deere dealership). They do so in a town that is largely fueled by wind and sunlight, and a landscape that reflects the natural Kansas prairie. They do so in a town that is gaining population and attracting young people. In going about their daily lives, the people of Greensburg provide inspiration for many others across the country and worldwide: those wanting to address the problem of climate change and peak oil; those who aspire to treat our planet with more care and to work towards more sustainable practices. Many Greensburg residents continue to use the lessons garnered from their hardships to reach out to others in need, and since the rash of exceedingly destructive tornadoes ripped through the South in the spring of 2011, the people of Greensburg have been offering expertise and support to other communities striving to mend. The latest “GreenTown” initiative served by the people of Greensburg: “GreenTown-Joplin” officially launched in October, 2011!
I would like to give a special thanks to Stefan Falke who has graciously permitted me to use his beautiful photos of Greensburg on this site. My photos did not do the town justice owing to the gray and rainy weather I encountered during my visit and the fact that I am still learning how to take a decent photo.
To see more incredible photos of Greensburg, view Stefan’s Greensburg slideshow at:
To learn more about the triumphs and tribulations after the tornado, be sure to take a look at the 20 episodes (2 seasons) of a reality series focused on the rebuilding of Greensburg, hosted by Planet Green (a subsidiary of the Discovery Channel).
Avg Temp in January: 40/17
Avg Temp in July: 92/67
Known for: Green building, community spirit