The Bright Side of Disaster
By Zak Rosen
I just got my first copy of Next American City in the mail. NAC is a, “A national quarterly magazine about making cities better,” and in their most recent edition they interview Rebecca Solnit about her now book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. The book’s about how disaster can actually be a catalyst for civic engagement and participation. Solnit talks about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, the 1917 explosion that tore up Halifax, Nova Scotia, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. And what all of these disasters have in common, says Solnit, is that “In all of them you see a similar improvisational, altruistic, brave response on the part of ordinary people that often creates a more vital civil society than they had before, and in that they often find satisfaction and even joy.” What Solnit describes here, I think, can also be applied to Greensburg, Kansas.
Greensburg was the small town of about 1,400 that was hit by a massive tornado back in the spring of 2007. Here’s a video from the night of the storm.
Over 90% of the city’s structures were destroyed and 11 people died. “Greensburg City Administrator Steve Hewitt lost his home and everything he owned. But Hewitt believes the tornado had a silver lining, for it made this town of some 1,400 people regroup and reinvent itself.”
Now, in the wake of the tornado, Greensburg has developed a city-wide plan is to reinvent itself as a “green town,” with all city buildings meeting LEED platinum standards, and power supplied by wind turbines. Daniel Wallach, the founder and executive director of Greensburg GreenTown says, “it ended up being pretty easy because people here are great conservationists. They’re conservatives, they conserve. They don’t like to waste. They recycle. They are good stewards of resources.”
Stay tuned in the coming months for a State of the Re:Union episode, chronicling the renewable trajectory the people of Greensburg are working toward.