Revisiting Greensburg Kansas: A Viable Guide for Communities Dealing with Storm Aftermath?



In light of the onslaught of devastating storms our country has been facing in recent weeks many communities are now facing the challenges of picking up the pieces. Yet, if we can look past the tragedy could there be a brighter side to the devastation? I think yes. These communities have been given an unfortunate but unique opportunity to rebuild parts or even their entire cities based around their most relevant needs.   Isn’t this an opportune time for community leaders, city council’s members, and citizens to consider implementing more sustainable features? Reconstruction must happen and with many areas receiving aid from FEMA and Red Cross why haven’t we been pushing this as a viable option for these communities?
And yes, it’s been done before. Anyone  remember Greensburg, Kansas? The little town not too far from Witchita that was  almost obliterated damaging 95% in 2009 when a EF5 tornado touched down?  Well, after the storm the city council banded together and passed a resolution stating that all city buildings would be built to LEED – platinum standards, making it the first city in the nation to do so. That meant implementing plans to have waste oil recycled for heating, sun lights in place of fluorescent lights that were to be dimmed, a pond to capture runoff water for irrigating drought resistant landscaping and a lot to contain crushed concrete from basements and sidewalks that were demolished by the storm. Not to mention:
  • The city entered into a power purchase agreement with a “green” power provider that has promised “100% renewable electricity, 100% of the time” from their wind, hydro, and other renewable energy electricity generation sources.
  • LEED Platinum SunChips Business Incubator: High-performance building materials provide maximum insulation and protection from high winds. Solar photovoltaic panels on the roof convert sunlight directly to electricity that meets about 10% of the building’s electricity requirements. A geothermal heating and cooling system taps into the earth’s temperature (warmer than outdoor air in winter and cooler in summer) to heat and cool the building.  Natural light provides most of the internal lighting, which minimizes the need for artificial lights. Water from sinks and showers is recycled and used to flush toilets. The recycled water (gray water) is supplemented by rainwater, which is collected and stored as it falls on the building.
  • LEED Platinum John Deere Dealership: The Greensburg dealership’s green features include highly insulated wall and roof systems, a highly energy- efficient heating and cooling system, and a network of skylights and mirrored reflectors that direct natural light where it is needed and reduce electricity use for lighting. Two onsite wind turbines provide electricity that offsets nearly 10% of the building’s total electricity needs.
  • To learn more about the  check out the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s case study here.
While Greensburg is just a small town of less than 5,000 residents the community leaves little doubt that green communities can “have a higher regard for human health, are easier on the natural environment, are well poised for economic growth and job creation, and through energy security, contribute to our nation’s security.”  Who wouldn’t want that?So where does this leave communities with  fleeting resources and very few investors? Like everything else that path is uncertain but will be hard just like every other.  Perhaps start by joining together, having community meetings, engaging with state leaders. Making needs and wants clear.  The fact is that for communities today, reconstruction must happen. While the entire initiative may not be viable for every community there are some things to be taken away from this case. So, if for just a moment we can de-politize going green and pull away all the red tape of politics and economics perhaps we can be able to see the benefits.
Please weigh in with comments if you’d like. This post is mainly to just get people thinking about the subject.
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