The Green In Greensburg

I have been following the rebirth and greening of Greensburg Kansas since that fateful night in May of 2007 when the town was leveled by an EF5 tornado with 200 mile per hour winds.   The storm hit at approximately 9:45 PM.  It was 1.7 miles wide which is wider than the town itself.  As you can see below, it scored a direct hit.

Greensburg Kansas ten days after the tornado.  Photo FEMA

Greensburg Kansas ten days after the tornado. Photo:FEMA

Until you see such devastation with your own eyes, it’s difficult to imagine what it’s really like.  Pictures don’t do it justice.  Nine months after Hurricane Katrina, I visited the Gulf Coast.  The abandonment, particularly in New Orleans, still haunts me.   I wasn’t ready for the tears and the abject hopelessness of so many, so long after the storm.  Given that, I can’t begin to imagine how it affects those who were there and actually had to endure it.

And so when people come out the other end of such an event, pick themselves up, dust themselves off and decide to make the world a better place, well, they have my attention and respect.  That’s what Greensburg has done.  Though the population of the town shrunk by half, those who stayed decided to rebuild their community as the greenest town in America.  That’s what they’re doing. Most of the public buildings that have gone up since the storm are LEED certified.  Greensburg has the highest concentration of LEED-certified buildings anywhere.  There are wind turbines and solar panels and native landscapes and rainwater capture systems.  Greensburg is walking the walk.

The rebuilt city hall is an example of the new greener Greensburg.  Rooftop solar, passive elements and ground source heat pumps have reduced energy usage by 38%.  It's all complimented with native, low-water consuming landscape that's perfect for the high, dry plains.

The rebuilt city hall is an example of the new greener Greensburg. Rooftop solar, passive elements and ground source heat pumps have reduced energy usage by 38%. It’s all complimented with native, low-water consuming landscape that’s perfect for the high, dry plains.  Photo:Greensburg KS

People have always been resourceful in this part of Kansas.  The Big Well is the world's largest hand dug well.  It was completed in the late 1800s and is now the site of the Big Well Museum.

People have always been resourceful in this part of Kansas. The Big Well is the world’s deepest hand dug well. It was completed in the late 1800s and is now the site of the Big Well Museum.  Photo:Greensburg KS

These days, bikes are a big part of Greensburg.

These days, bikes are a big part of Greensburg.  Photo:Greensburg KS

Bikeshare at the Big Well Museum.

Bikeshare bikes, ready to roll.  Photo:Greensburg KS

Or maybe I should say Greensburg is biking the bike.  Earlier this year, this town of just under 1,000 people initiated their very own bike sharing program.  I spoke with Stacy Barnes, one of the people who was responsible for bringing bikeshare to Greensburg.  She told me that there are a total of twelve bikes in the program and they can be picked up at the Big Well Museum.  These pleasant looking bikes were purchased through Kent Bicycle and they’re branded with the city logo.

Ms. Barnes told me that the bikes are popular with both tourists and local residents alike.  They’re free to use.  She’s seen locals choose to hop on the bikes for quick trips instead of getting in the car.  The program has been so popular, in fact, that Greensburg may expand it and place more bikes around town in the future.  Since the storm, people here are just a little more aware of how fragile the natural world is.  Bikes help.  Bikes heal.

The people of Greensburg Kansas continue to inspire me.  They are a living testimony to the power of the human spirit, and I am really excited that bicycles are part of their vision for the future.  Jan and I will be heading through in the spring.   I’m looking forward to meeting Stacy Barnes, visiting the Big Well and seeing this amazing town on the high plains of western Kansas…from the saddle of a bicycle.  In the meantime, if you’d like more information about Greensburg, check out the links below:

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