(UR) Kansas — A Kansas town learned the hard way to rely on renewable, green energy. After an F-5 tornado decimated Greensburg, half the town’s population fled and never returned. The other half decided to act as a role model for other fracking-injured states by turning to 100 percent renewable energy, making hay of an otherwise disastrous situation.
Emerging like a phoenix from the literal ashes and rubble that the 2007 tornado created, Greensburg, Kansas, is now the second city in the U.S. to hold the title of 100 percent renewable (Burlington, Vermont, was the first). It has also installed a comprehensive sustainability plan that includes building a stronger foundation for future generations by growing business and sustainable practices, hand-in-hand.
The rural town’s residents were greatly involved in the planning of Greensburg’s new direction. They crafted a unified vision, which centered on creating strong community, devotion to family, the fostering of new business, and a concentration on working together for future generations. This included making energy consumption more efficient, while sourcing renewable energy, improving the health of citizens, rebuilding using green materials, and providing affordable housing.
The average per capita income in Greensburg was $18,054 in 2000, but despite the low income of the town, few families were living below the poverty line (8.4 percent). The comprehensive plan includes “mandatory oversight in the rebuilding process [which requires] the City to pay special attention to those individuals who need the most help. Job creation deserves particular attention.”
By focusing on building the town from nothing with ‘green’ technologies they not only made a cleaner, more sovereign place for the inhabitants, but also provided “green-collar” jobs.
Additionally, the town paid special attention to honoring nature in an area of the U.S. that is littered with fracking operations. The plan states,
“The scenic beauty, biological diversity, historic value, and cultural significance of the region surrounding Greensburg are a significant asset. As we have learned, the prairie, its inhabitants and larger economic forces are all part of the same system. Greensburg’s culture and economy are directly affected by the natural systems of the region and this context should be considered in any new development project.”
Along with future land use projections, the town’s residents planned for green corridors, walkability, and a more trees along the downtown focal areas — all of which were to be built utilizing green energy, and with a view of long-term sustainability. Even building materials are discussed, with an assertion that, “cheap materials and construction practices have no place in Greensburg’s future.”
Where possible, new buildings would take advantage of natural lighting to reduce the need for electric sources of energy, and reclaimed wood and other materials were specifically named in their planning documents. Even building facades for future development were conceptualized to utilize the natural rhythms of nature to provide ample light and heat in winter, and cooler shade from trees in summer months.
The town has also developed a greywater system and water catchment to help sustainably irrigate.
Sustainable design and construction also include building in such a way as to avert future tornados and earthquakes’ disastrous results. Since Kansas is the ‘Wizard of Oz’ for inclement weather, planning for future building would minimize material failure, lateral collapse, and overturning of homes as we’ve seen depicted in the popular movie.
With a population of just under 2,000 people currently, the citizens looked at every detail before deciding to rebuild their town from the devastating tornado, in order to “do it right.” Sustainability isn’t just for mammoth cities. Small towns are creating a shining light for others to reference in their own reformation and urban planning for cities of all sizes.
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