Sustainable Architecture and the Power of Community: Rebuilding Greensburg, Kansas

Five years ago, a tornado devastated Greensburg, Kan. The town decided to make the most of the event, turning their community's tornado recovery into a chance to green their town.

| May 4, 2012

Sustainable architecture is not the first phrase that comes to mind when you think about how to rebuild after a tornado. But for Greensburg, Kan., their tornado recovery plan has occurred side-by-side with LEED platinum public buildings, renewable energy, water saving and other environmental initiatives. This excerpt is adapted from various sections of Robert Fraga's The Greening of Oz (Wasteland Press, 2012). 

In early May, 2007, a killer wind wiped out a small town in south central Kansas. The name of the town: Greensburg. The wind which blew it off the map was the biggest tornado to touch down in this country since the adoption three months earlier of the so-called Enhanced Fujita Scale.

Why write a book about what happened in Greensburg? Towns, after all, get hit by tornadoes every year. There is even a part of the Midwest called Tornado Alley. Greensburg lies smack dab in the middle of it. It’s the way the town chose to rebuild that makes it unique. These are still early days. Only five years have elapsed since the tornado; but the Greensburg experiment — and it is an experiment — needs to be followed, not just by its own tornado-prone region of the country, but by the country as a whole. And followed attentively.

This village, sequestered on the Great Plains of America, may help point the way to the future, the way human beings can survive not only increasingly violent natural disasters — a result of global climate change — but the depletion of oil and gas reserves, a growing scarcity of all but sustainable materials, and pollution so pervasive that it is poisoning our environment.

Choosing Sustainable Architecture: Power of Community

What was it that Greensburg, Kan., decided to do? On December 17, 2007, the City Council mandated that all public buildings with a footprint exceeding 4,000 square feet be built to meet LEED platinum certification. It encouraged residents, reconstructing their homes and businesses, to do likewise. 

In an interview in The Signal on May 9, 2007, Mayor Lonnie McCollum chose to put a brave face on things. “We have the opportunity for a brand new town,” he said. Photographed wearing a white T-shirt and his signature baseball cap with its panoply of American-flag stars, McCollum acknowledged that the town was not going to come back overnight. “But in five years, there will be a huge improvement.”

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