Green Building An Entire Town?

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In recent years, natural disasters have caused untold damages to both properties, and to people’s lives all over the world.  With tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, earthquakes in China, and Hurricane Katrina that laid waste to New Orleans and the surrounding area in 2005, it is clear that nature has a way of reminding us that we as a civilization are only a small part of a larger global context. But, these disasters also bring out the best in people, including the drive and creativity that helps to start new and prosperous lives even after disaster has struck.

With this thought in mind, here’s a story about a town, Greensburg Kansas, home to 1400 residents  that was virtually destroyed by a tornado two years ago.  Faced with unimaginable hardship, the plight of the town mobilized citizens to action, calling them to pull together with a strategy on how to start again, while being within budget and being sensitive to the economic realities in front of them.

So, what did they do?  They decided to green build.

When you look at pictures of Greensburg after the tornado, the damage is overwhelming.  Yet as the article states, the goals and value systems of the town were unchanged.  They still needed to maintain shelter for their citizens,  support the recovery of local business, and also preserve the history and life of the town itself.  Green building was the answer for many.

On a residential level, one hundred  homes were re-built and designed to be 42% more energy efficient than local codes demand.  This of course not only spares the cost of resources to service residences, but the occupants share in that savings with a lower energy bill.  In the meantime, the entire downtown core was built up from where the old town once stood, with sustainability as a common starting point.

From the article:

Back in business are the town’s new sustainable GM dealership, three eco-friendly banks, and a handful of energy-efficient churches. A new ICF-constructed Dillons grocery is slated for LEED-Gold certification and features optimal daylighting, a superior building envelope, and motion-activated display case lighting.

Also on the agenda is a LEED-platinum hospital which features rain harvesting and solar energy technology.  A wind farm is being planned to close any energy shortfalls.  And a K-12 green built school to open next summer will incorporate similar technology that models the principles of green building for students in addition to providing an efficient, and more economically viable energy solution for the school itself.

Of the 1400 people who were forced to leave Greenburg in 2007, 900 have returned to re-build, encouraged by a new vision for their town, and of the new possibilities in their own futures.  It’s stories like this which really brings the issue of sustainability to life for me.  This is because it presents a firm truth that our environment and our quality of life are vitally intertwined.

Thanks to Greenshelter who referred me to the story.

Greensburg image courtesy of Wesley Fryer



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Rob Jones

Rob served as Editor-In-Chief of BuildDirect Blog: Life At Home from 2007-2016. He is a writer, Dad, content strategist, and music fan.