Out of the Rubble and Towards a Sustainable Future: The “Greening” of Greensburg, Kansas

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Greensburg, KS May 16, 2007 Photo by Greg Henshall / FEMA, Public Domain

Stacey Swearingen White of the Urban Planning Department, University of Kansas has published a new article titled “Out of the Rubble and Towards a Sustainable Future: The “Greening” of Greensburg, Kansas” in which she focuses on the rebuilding of a storm devastated community using sustainable urban development principles.  The introduction to Stacey’s work reads:

On the night of May 4 2007, a mile-and-a-half-wide (2.4 kilometer-wide) tornado struck the City of Greensburg, Kansas. The 200 mile-per-hour (320 kilometer-per-hour) winds of this storm leveled or severely damaged approximately 90–95% of the city. Eleven people perished. The school, hospital, municipal buildings, grocery store, water tower, and virtually every home were destroyed. Upon viewing the extent of the devastation, many doubted the future viability of this small city.

Despite the immense challenges, Greensburg has in fact embarked on a recovery process that has garnered national and even international attention for its focus on sustainability. The idea of rebuilding as a ―green Greensburg emerged very quickly after the disaster, and has been a cornerstone of the recovery effort. In addition, the City has suggested that its innovative use of both policy and technology can serve as a model for other communities seeking to implement sustainability principles as they plan for the future.

Examining the implementation of sustainability principles at the community level facilitates an understanding of future planning of this type. More specifically, understanding how and why local governments pursue innovative sustainability approaches will help clarify the conditions needed to promote additional efforts in this area. The case of Greensburg provides a useful lens into both of these areas. This paper seeks to understand:

(1) How and why did the sustainability innovations emerge in Greensburg; and

(2) In what ways might those innovative practices serve as a model for other communities?

The sections that follow explain further the community of Greensburg and its recovery process, review the relevant literature that might guide an understanding of innovative local government sustainability practices, describe the approach taken here to analyze the case of Greensburg, and present the findings and lessons of this study.

Read the full article in PDF format by clicking here.

Citation: White, S.S. Out of the Rubble and Towards a Sustainable Future: The “Greening” of Greensburg, Kansas. Sustainability 2010, 2, 2302-2319.


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