Once-backwater Greensburg, Kansas, is turning a brand-new, bright green leaf. With a population hovering around 1,500, the town has emerged over the past few months as one of the country’s most progressive, environmentally friendly cities.
Rising from the rubble left behind from last May’s devastating 1.7-mile-wide F5 tornado, Greensburg earlier this year became the first city in the United States to mandate that all city building projects be built to LEED platinum level standards. Just under a year after the rural area lost 11 residents and 95 percent of homes and businesses to the storm, new permits have been issued for 126 homes and 41 commercial buildings.
Locals have enthusiastically embraced their new tree-hugging image. “We are talking about a model green community for the world. And we want the world to visit. We could end up having ecotourism here,” Daniel Wallach, a local businessman who formed the Greensburg GreenTown organization to co-ordinate the effort, told the Guardian.
The town’s previous claim to fame was an antiquated site called the Big Well—the largest hand-dug well in America—a stark difference from the cutting-edge developments of today. Set to debut in time for the tragedy’s year anniversary on May 4th is the brand-new 5.4.7 Arts Center, a community gathering place and art museum-workshop designed by students from the University of Kansas’s architecture school—built from a reclaimed munitions depot and complete with three wind turbines.
And already in the works are several innovative demonstration homes that will serve as eco-educational lodgings, where people can spend the night and see what it means to live in, say, a straw bale house. Plus, by September, a space where destroyed businesses can start up again under the same roof to share expenses—including ten retail shops—will open in the fancy new Business Incubator on Main Street.
“Greensburg is a work in progress,” Greensburg GreenTown‘s Catherine Hart told IT. “There’s a lot happening. It’s really interesting because there’s still some debris and a lot of things that haven’t been rebuilt, but also some that has been, so the contrast between the two most find really interesting. The energy of being around rebuilding is really quite palpable.”
It certainly doesn’t feel like Kansas. Where’s Toto when you need him?
Photo: New growth in Greensburg, by Stacy Barnes