Friday, December 28, 2007

Green City, USA

In the evening hours of May 4, 2007, the small town of Greensburg, Kansas saw tornadoes that destroyed 95% of its homes and businesses. The EF-5 tornado, nearly 2-miles in width, killed 9 people and changed the sleepy burg into what looked like a war zone in less than 20 minutes.

I've seen tornadoes, but so far have been fortunate enough never to have been directly effected by their destructive powers. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the people of Greensburg to live through such a thing. An outsider looking in might expect that, after the majority of the town's structures were wiped out, it would be easiest to just walk away, give up, move on. But the citizens have decided to stay. And not only that, but they've decided to rebuild a better town, a place that their children will want to return to after college. They're doing this by going green.

To some, the idea of an uber environmentally friendly town snug in the middle of Red USA might seem incongruous. But it seems as though the people of Greensburg have come to appreciate the (completely non-partisan) common sense and revitalizing aspects of green building despite the fact that some folks would label it as part of a "bleeding heart, tree-hugging" movement.

The City Council has just approved a resolution stating that all future city building projects will be built to LEED platinum level standards. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was designed and implemented by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to "encourage and accelerate global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria."

Basically, it's the organic certification of the architectural and building world. It's also an incredibly ambitious and laudable goal, one that likely won't be easy, mostly because of money, to see through. I sure wish them the best, though.

So far, they've rebuilt the city's electrical system, put up street lights, replaced road signs and are in the process of building a "
large development of senior living housing and multi-family units on Main Street is on track to be a LEED certified Gold level project."

If they meet their goals, Greensburg will be able to boast the highest concentration of LEED certified structures in the country. No small feat for a small town.

The rest of the nation (and world) could stand to learn a valuable lesson from the example being set by Greensburg. Green building and living practices are the only way if we expect to sustain ourselves into the next century. And it shouldn't just be on the minds of communities that have suffered great damage (New Orleans, for example). These techniques should appeal to everyone everywhere who wants to prop up their homes and their neighbors.

Too, it's great to see Greensburg's Big Plan getting good press. The Discovery Channel is in the process of filming a 13-episode reality series called "Eco-Town" that will track the progress in Greensburg. I was turned on to the whole thing by a profile on NPR. (more press here)

Stories like these not only serve to give me warm fuzzy feelings in the cockles of my heart, they also serve to illustrate to the world just how practical and possible things like this are. Unfortunately, we need a few good kicks in the pants to convince us. So Greensburg? Give us a good wallop, yeah?


John Foust said...

The village of Johnson Creek recently put LEED certification into place for future building projects, but it was overturned by business-friendly elements on the board after the first serious bank expansion came along. The village admin there has been an advocate for The Natural Step, and encouraged many study circles in our area.

Recently Fort Atkinson included a geothermal heating system in its middle school renovations. Jefferson is considering the same for its high school renovation. With rising energy costs, and technological improvements in geothermal systems, it only requires a slightly more open mind to consider projectst that have a ten-year pay-off instead of a five-year amortization. There aren't many people willing to take the bet that energy costs will be lower in ten years. said...

I just watched Earth 2100 and it was a bleak realization of what COULD happen if we don't start looking at things 'globally' instead of 'nationally'. I believe they actually featured Greensburg for a few brief moments as being a sort of oasis in the middle of all of the wastelands of the United States. I was actually in tears towards the end thinking that there are SO many things we should be doing with the money that was handed over to the auto makers to fund their vacations and bonuses. Things that might SAVE our way of life instead of serving to delay the inevitable if we should keep relying upon oil. Kudos to Greenburg and its developers and engineers for trying to be the ones to shake us all up and give us that kick in the rear we so desperately need before it is too late!

The Lost Albatross