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The Greening of Greensburg
Sarah Kuck, 3 Apr 08

Last May, an EF 5 tornado hit western Kansas. In Greensburg, the storm leveled every building, picked up cars and tossed them into rooftops, demolished the streets, left more than two-thirds of the town’s population homeless and killed 11 people.

Out of this tragedy, an opportunity arose to reconstruct and rejuvenate not only the buildings but also the town itself. As is the story for many small farm towns, the future of Greensburg looked bleak. Even before the tornado, jobs were growing scarce and the population was shrinking by two percent every year.

So, the people of Greensburg decided not only to stay, rebuild and provide aid but also to take a revolutionary approach to doing so -- the environmentally sustainable way. City leaders saw their chance to change the city into a place where everyone would want to be, an environmentally sustainable place that would serve as an example for towns everywhere.
We’ve written about our hopes for the heartland before, and the inspiring ways the Great Plains could turn away from business as usual and start imagining what a bright green farm belt would look like. Now, Greensburg is doing just that.

Kansas is third in the nation for wind power potential, and according to the City of Greensburg, one wind turbine could typically power the whole town. City officials are also interested in looking into solar, geothermal and manure as power sources. In addition, the Greensburg City Council passed a resolution stating that all new city buildings will meet LEED platinum certification standards, making it the first city to do so.

Greensburg lies within Kiowa County. According to the USDA, this county harvests a total of 55,749 acres of wheat annually. Other crops grown in the area are corn, sorghum, forage, soybeans and cotton. The draft 2008 Greensburg Sustainable Comprehensive Master Plan outlines how city leaders would like to carry the new ideas of sustainability into their strong agricultural economy by encouraging the production of biobased and bioenergy products.

According to the Sustainable Comprehensive Master Plan new industries will be attracted to Greensburg because of the availability of agricultural wastes, byproducts, consumer products, and the proximity of an active rail line. For instance, new fuel industries could set up a supply chain by which they purchase the agri¬cultural waste from corn or wheat farming to produce alternative fuels such as biomass or biofuel. This creates a byproduct synergy whereby one in¬dustry’s waste becomes another indus¬try’s product. Not only does this model support, enhance the existing farm economy and reinforce the town’s goals for becoming a sustainable model, but it also creates jobs that are appropriate for the existing population.

Within the city limits, city leaders are creating spaces for farmer’s markets and are encouraging townspeople to create community gardens in vacant lots.

To educate and motivate the townspeople to create the vision and become involved in the transformation, some residents started a community-owned nonprofit called Greensburg GreenTown. The organization offers townspeople technical counseling for green programs, an energy rater who will assist homeowners to maximize energy savings at home, as well as access to a plethora of educational materials in their library, on their website and educational classes and lectures.

Many Greensburg residents are seeing this move toward sustainability not as a push toward granola-crunching, hippie-dom, but as something their great grandparents would have supported – a wise use of what they have and independence.

The mindful reconstruction measures are bringing more than just innovative design and sustainable development to the town; the new ideas are bringing youth interest back to Greensburg. Levi Schmidt, 15, told NPR that before the tornado, he had no intention of coming back.

“I was going to go to college, and who knows where. This community was dying.” Schmidt said. “Now I'm definitely coming back, and I know a good majority of my friends are.”

The town’s efforts have garnered the attention of green savvy business interested in investing in renewable energy, such as various biodiesel companies, GM and Google, who is interested in opening a wind-powered data center nearby.

The rebuilding of Greensburg will soon be featured in a 13-part television series, Eco-Town, produced by star-ctivist Leonardo DiCaprio.

The town, Greensburg GreenTown and residents are hoping their efforts can become an example green community for towns all over the nation. Although the Plains and the Midwest in general have a long way to go in terms of weaning farming away from petrochemical addiction and unsustainable cultivation practices, we are encouraged to see big steps being taken in the right direction. We’ll be watching and rooting them on in their journey to a bright green future.

Photo souce: Wikimedia Commons

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Great idea . . . but what happens when the wind stops blowing one day. Where will the electricity come from when those turbine blades stop spinning. Also there is a possibility that blades will crack, causing the unit to not work properly, or the gear box will fail. What do you do at that point. is the town prepared to hire a mainetance person or company to manage the turbine. It's just like your car - it has moving parts and WILL break down. Great idea but remeber wind farms only have an average capacity of 30 percent, meaning that only 3 out of 10 times electricity is being produced. And in the summer with heavy need for pivot irrigation and air conditoning, wind turbines may not be the answer.

Check with electrical utilities and get a better understanding of what base load is (its the power that keeps running to your house) and how wind is an intermittent energy source.

Posted by: Jim Beckerstaff on 4 Apr 08

The intermittent nature of wind energy production is a non-issue. The article also mentioned Greensburg's interest in solar. This town has a great opportunity to create a mini smart-grid with distributed wind and solar production with battery banks to satisfy their electrical needs. If they go this route, they'll end up saving a lot of money and a lot of lives while creating new jobs. I'm happy to hear about this and I applaud what they're doing.

Disaster capitalism can be a terrible thing or a beautiful thing. Looks like these folks are making the right choice.

Posted by: greensolutions on 4 Apr 08


Posted by: kunal on 5 Apr 08

We can learn much from the people of Greensburg, they are going forth with the true pioneer spirit of our midwestern ancestors! Instead of being thwarted by the 'what if's and buts' they are blazing ahead to make the very best out of a bad situation.

Posted by: khris k on 5 Apr 08



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