From: Rachel Navaro, BuildingGreen, More from this Affiliate
Published December 21, 2007 03:08 PM

Kansas Town Rebuilding as the Greenest in America

This rendering of a future Main Street for Greensburg, Kansas, depicts how BNIM Architects and others are planning a highly walkable community.


On May 4, 2007, a two-mile-wide tornado ripped through Greensburg, Kansas, demolishing 90% of the small town’s structures. Within a week, nearby resident Daniel Wallach founded Greensburg GreenTown (GBGT). Its mission is to provide the residents of Greensburg with the resources, information, and support they need to rebuild as “the greenest town in America.”


In order to develop a recovery plan for the area, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) held over 50 stakeholder meetings and organized several town meetings. After 12 weeks of “community conversations,” it became apparent that sustainability had surfaced as the area’s number-one priority.

In turn, it shaped FEMA’s Long-Term Community Recovery Plan for Greensburg and Kiowa County. Steve Castaner, deputy federal coordinating officer of FEMA, explained, “The reason that green is in [Greensburg’s] plan is because the community said, ‘it’s important to us.’” Because Greensburg residents made sure that FEMA emphasized energy issues in the plan, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has established a field office in the town. One program it offers residents is a series of Building America seminars on affordable, energy-efficient construction techniques, taught by the staff of Building

Science Corporation of Medford, Massachesetts. “Unfortunately, when you’re trying to rebuild a new town, nothing happens as fast as you want it to,” remarked Stephen Hardy, a community planner at BNIM, the Kansas City, Missouri, architecture firm contracted to develop the town’s master plan, which will address not only design goals and principles for rebuilding but also zoning refinements, housing and energy-efficiency policies, and a strategy for building a highly walkable community. “There’s a constant tension between rebuilding as fast as possible and making the right decisions. But because Greensburg was already on a slow, steady decline prior to the tornado,” explained Hardy, “residents know that if they were to simply jump in and rebuild exactly as before, there’s no reason that trend would change. They recognize that and want to do something different.”

Greensburg-based companies are using the disaster as an opportunity to advance their businesses by embracing environmental responsibility. The town’s John Deere tractor dealership, for example, is planning to build a model green facility for dealerships nationwide. The company’s retail brand experience manager, Dave Jeffers, said that whatever comes out of this experience will inform the John Deere facilities building manual, which “all John Deere builders use as their bible.” Wallach hopes that businesses and other organizations will participate in GBGT’s Model Homes Project by investing in the development of one or more of 12 model green homes, all of which will serve as demonstration sites for a variety of environmentally responsible design and construction techniques.

Ogden Publications’ Mother Earth News and Natural Home were the first to sign on to the Model Homes Project and are seeking donations of green building products (that have received third-party certification as such) for their project. Their model home, to be constructed this winter, will serve as the educational and visitor center and will feature energy-efficient designs from the Building Technology Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, structural insulated panel construction, a combined solar- and wind-power system, a no-mow lawn, and extensive use of recycled wood. The Model Homes Project will eventually operate as lodging for tourists who want to experience living in green buildings.

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