On May 4, 2007, the residents of the small Kansas town of Greensburg faced one of the worst natural disasters in the state’s history: an EF5 tornado which leveled the town and killed 13 people. With 95 percent of the town completely destroyed and the other five percent severely damaged, it would have been easy for residents to collapse in despair and abandon their stricken home. But the city council decided to turn the tragedy into an opportunity: they decided that they would rebuild the town, and every city structure would be built to LEED Platinum standards.
Greensburg was in a sorry state following the 2007 tornado. It was the largest storm most people had ever seen in their lives, with 205 mile-per-hour winds and an estimated width of 1.7 miles – wider than the entire town of Greensburg. The town was left almost completely destroyed; Greensburg’s 1400 residents were left living, receiving medical care and attending school out of tents and trailers. (Above: Greensburg before the tornado, left, and after, right.)
Following the devastating destruction, city council members spent a grueling 12 weeks developing a recovery plan. They decided that their emergency recovery funds would best be spend making the town a more sustainable and prosperous place to live. Prior to the storm, young people had been moving away in droves and none were coming to replace them. The town offered little in the way of economic opportunity, and officials feared that Greensburg’s days were numbered.
The tornado, as heartbreaking and tragic as it was, afforded Greensburg an unusual opportunity to rebuild from the ground up. And the residents would not only rebuild their town – they would rebuild it with modern green techniques and materials that simply weren’t available when the town was founded. They would build the world’s first planned eco-town.
Requiring all city buildings to adhere to LEED Platinum standards makes Greensburg the first city in the United States to go completely “green.” Homeowners are encouraged to build their homes to high environmental standards as well, and while LEED certified buildings cost an average of five percent more to build than non-certified structures, they afford average utility savings of 30 to 50 percent, meaning that owners can recoup the increased building costs in as little as one to two years.
Besides rebuilding the lost structures in new, greener ways, the town has also constructed a new wind farm to provide clean energy for the town. Energy-efficient LED streetlights have gone up, and the new eco-friendly school recently opened its doors to students. A business incubator (housed in a beautiful eco-friendly building, of course) helps locals start and sustain businesses that will keep Greensburg alive well into the future.
The residential and commercial areas of the town have been reborn and completely remade. Residents who spent more than two years living in FEMA emergency trailers have moved into their new eco-friendly homes, and the town’s schools and businesses are finally returning to normal. A community garden encourages residents to work together to make each home and each family just a little healthier. Even some residents who decided to leave Greensburg after the tornado have come back to live in the revitalized town.
(all images via Greensburg Green Town)
Greensburg has come a very long way since the 2007 tornado leveled more than a century of history. City officials are confident that, as the town is rebuilt piece by piece, the residents will continue to appreciate and improve their newly-green home. Since the horrific tornado, residents have consistently pitched in to repair and improve every aspect of the town. Although there is still work to be done, the town is looking more and more like home every day to its faithful residents.