Wednesday, June 9, 2010

day 21: i was proud of kansas

My home state is infamous for some rather unsavory reasons that mostly involve willful ignorance and bigotry: like a hateful, homophobic Santa Claus, so-called pastor Fred Phelps compiles his "god hates you" list at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka; schools teach "intelligent design" as a "viable alternative" to evolution under the directives of the Kansas State Board of Education; Women’s Health Care Services medical director George Tiller, one of only three physicians nationwide providing late-term abortions to desperate women, was gunned down in May of 2009 while attending mass in Wichita.

In other words, I have a lot of reasons to lie about where I’m from.

But finally, the small town of Greensburg, population 1,574, has given me something to be proud of.

In 2007, an F5 tornado (for those of you who didn’t grow up in Tornado Alley, this is basically like the finger of god descending from the clouds, singling you out and saying you’re fucked) destroyed 95 percent of the town within an hour. People’s lives were instantly and permanently ground into a mash of dust, twisted scrap metal and clapboard. Deaths totaled 11.

When the chaos finally settled in the federally-designated national disaster area, those who stuck around were faced with the daunting task of how to rebuild. After examining cost, sustainability and return on investment, Greensburg decided to go green.

And not trendy “look at me, I drive a Prius and eat only raw foods” green, but all-out Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-platinum certified green. The whole town, from schools to civic centers to Kiowa County Memorial Hospital, has embraced the high standard of sustainable and environmentally-friendly design, making Greensburg the first city in the U.S. to do so.

Some changes in Greensburg include utilization of wind and solar power, building with recycled materials, recycling construction waste, harvesting, purifying and re-using rainwater, and designing buildings and homes to make the most of natural lighting. Even the landscaping has been considered to promote water conservation, and plants are drought-resistent Kansas natives such as buffalo grass. (Pictured above: the town's new Arts Center.)

Greensburg's efforts have been nationally-recognized, and they were recently nominated for a VH1 Do Something award (click the link to vote for them). Which, while an awesome achievement for a small town, still pales in comparison to finally giving this Kansas girl and others like me something to brag about.

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