Center for American Progress

The Reinvention of Greensburg: It’s Easy Being Green
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The Reinvention of Greensburg: It’s Easy Being Green

The town of Greensburg, KS used the devastation of a tornado as an opportunity to transform itself into a model green community.

One of the strongest tornadoes on record struck western Kansas last May. The town of Greensburg was particularly hard-hit. Eleven people were killed, and almost 1,400 residents were displaced. To make matters worse, the town faced rough times even before the tornado: jobs were declining and Greensburg was losing 2 percent of its population every year. Those who left for college didn’t return. The survival of the town was in jeopardy.

But Greensburg decided to use its tragic circumstances as an opportunity to revive the entire town and recreate it as something more sustainable and environmentally sound. Several initiatives arose from planning by city officials and residents that included tapping into Kansas’ wind energy potential, obtaining new green certification for buildings, and educating residents about how to conserve energy.

Kansas is third in the nation for wind power potential, and City of Greensburg officials believe one wind turbine could power the whole town. Officials are also looking into solar, geothermal, and even manure as power sources. The city passed a resolution—the first of its kind—declaring that all new buildings would meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification standards. And a nonprofit was founded, Greensburg GreenTown, to “provide the residents of Greensburg, Kansas with the resources, information and support they need to rebuild Greensburg as a model green community following the May 2007 tornado.”

As part of the 2008 Greensburg Sustainable Comprehensive Master Plan, city officials are also looking at ways to take advantage of their agricultural resources, which include crops such as wheat, corn, sorghum, forage, and soybeans. They are interested in setting up supply chains to transport agricultural waste from corn and wheat farming to produce biomass or biofuels. In the process, they believe, the farm economy of the area would be enhanced, and new jobs could be created that are “appropriate for the existing population.”

Because of the town’s efforts, young people who would once take off for school and relocate are reconsidering. The Discovery Channel will feature the town in a 13-part series entitled, “Eco-Town,” and Google is considering building a wind-powered data center nearby. Other green-savvy businesses are beginning to take interest as well. The residents are just hoping their new town can become a model green community, and spark interest elsewhere in the Midwest. Their situation could have meant disaster, but instead they’ve decided to push for something better.

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