Earlier this month I visited Greensburg, Kan., and toured a few of its many green buildings. It was a great trip, and you can see more photos from my visit in this Greensburg photo gallery.
Background. Greensburg is the rural Midwestern town that was struck by an EF5 tornado on May 4, 2007. The storm was 1.7 miles wide — it killed 11 people and destroyed most of the town.
After the storm, the people of Greensburg made a commitment to rebuilding the town as a model green community. That effort is already well underway, and you can even watch its progress on TV. A Greensburg TV series on the Planet Green network is following the progress of rebuilding. The third season begins filming soon.
My visit. Mother Earth News is based in Topeka, Kan., so Greensburg is relatively close to where we’re located — about a 4 hour drive — but this was my first visit to the town. I took a walking tour guided by volunteers from Greensburg Greentown, a community-based nonprofit devoted to helping Greensburg build green.
So what does Greensburg look like these days? Well, there’s still a lot of evidence of the storm, even more than two years out. As our tour guides explained, Greensburg used to be locally known for its trees, but now most of the trees are gone. You can see from one end of town to the other — the view is wide open. Most of the storm debris is gone, too, but there are still remnants of many buildings — a wall here, some steps there. But already many homes and buildings have been rebuilt, and many more are under construction.
There are nine different buildings on the walking tour of Greensburg (some you can go into, and others are just visible from the street). While there are many green features to see, I was struck by one recurring theme: concrete. Many of the buildings are being built with insulated concrete form walls (ICFs). In fact, ICF construction makes a lot of sense for Greensburg. Not only does it provide excellent insulation, the buildings are also structurally strong, and therefore very resistant to storm damage. From a green standpoint, one of the disadvantages of concrete is that it takes a lot of energy to produce. But in Greensburg, there are always more opportunities to go green — in this case by recycling concrete debris from the storm. The Silo Eco-Home in Greensburg is made of precast concrete, and 35 percent of that concrete is recycled from local storm debris.
Another noticeable fact about Greensburg: There are renewable energy systems everywhere, especially on the new city buildings. The arts center has wind turbines, city hall has building-integrated solar panels, and many buildings have renewable energy systems that are not readily visible from the street, including rooftop solar panels and underground geothermal heating and cooling systems.
If you want to visit. For anyone who’s interested in renewable energy or green building, Greensburg is a great place to visit. You can simply walk up and down Main Street and see numerous examples of eco-friendly building in action, and even more green buildings are planned for the future. One exciting project is the Chain of EcoHomes being planned by Greensburg Greentown. This project is designed to help visitors understand the green options available to homeowners.
If you’re in the area, don’t miss the chance to stop by and check out what’s happening, and be sure to check in with Greensburg Greentown for more information about tours. You can also download their self-guided tour booklet for much more information about the green features of individual buildings.
Above: The 5.4.7 Arts Center in Greensburg. The building provides space for exhibitions, art classes and meetings of community organizations. It's named after the date the tornado struck. Photo by Nathan Poell.
Megan E. Phelps is a freelance writer based in Kansas. She enjoys reading and writing about all things related to sustainable living including homesteading skills, green building and renewable energy. You can find her on Google+.