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Rebuilding Greensburg as ’Green’ Town to Be a Challenge

Sat August 11, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) The task of rebuilding Greensburg is presenting the supporters of so-called “green” design with an opportunity to display the environmental-friendly philosophy on a community-wide scale.

But determining what a green Greensburg will look like will require careful maneuvering around issues of politics, financing and even reality television in the town devastated by a May 4 tornado.

For starters, there isn’t another “green town” in the United States on which to base Greensburg’s redevelopment, said Stephen Hardy, a city planner with a Kansas City, Mo., architecture firm brought in by the state to do consulting work.

That gives planners “an endless list of opportunities,” Hardy said.

Green typically is used to describe conservation efforts such as energy efficiency, waste management, minimal water use, better indoor air quality and ecologically friendly building practices.

Such moves not only can help the environment but also improve a community’s economic and social situation, Hardy said.

Planners say a greener Greensburg could serve as a magnet for low-polluting industries and lead to the development of solar and wind power, which the city could use or export to other towns.

Some have looked at wind turbines and solar backup systems, or a geothermal unit that would use underground tubes to heat and cool city buildings by taking advantage of the earth’s constant temperature, said Chris Kliewer, president of the Wichita chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Hardy said neighborhoods could be redesigned to encourage walking and make it easier for residents to get to know their neighbors.

The idea, he said, “is that every decision you make should ensure that you’re not compromising the ability of the next generation to be as prosperous or as healthy as you are. Basically you’re going to think about everything you do over time.”

City officials are on board with City Manager Steve Hewitt saying the rebuilt City Hall will be “as green as we can make it. And we’re going to encourage the county and the hospitals and the schools in that direction.”

Hewitt said he hopes that example will encourage residents to rebuild their homes with similar green designs, but doubted city council members were ready to make those designs a requirement.

Hardy, who has worked with other communities recovering from natural disasters, said Greensburg residents have been much more supportive of green designs than past communities. But he and other experts say not everyone will be on board.

For example, some view “green” as a liberal political agenda, said Daniel Wallach, a Stafford County resident who leads Greensburg GreenTown, a nonprofit group looking to turn the city into a model for green development.

But Wallach said politics shouldn’t enter into the discussion.

“Breathing clean air and drinking clean water where generations can live and have economic viability are not political issues,” he said.

He added that explaining what green development is and how it works can head off much of the criticism.

“Folks in the rural areas have been going ’green’ for generations,” he said. “And this is nothing new. It’s about bringing new technologies to the values and lifestyles.”

The biggest obstacle will be another type of green — money.

Green technology, construction and planning is more expensive. While energy savings offset some of the cost, communities still have to come up with the initial cash.

“It’s going to be a struggle financially,” Hewitt said.

Federal officials are expected to help the city replace its infrastructure, but they’re only paying to replace things like power lines, not rebuild them with green alternatives.

City officials are talking with government and private groups to get more money to rebuild things with green technology and Wallach said he’ll ask for grants and private donations.

Then there’s “Eco-Town,” a 13-part reality series on cable television being considered by Discovery Communications. Such a project could include funding to make sure it happens.

“We’re still talking to them,” Hewitt said. “I hope this works. There’s still a lot to come out about it, how it’s going to work, so many questions.”

But, he said, “we have to look at every opportunity.”

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