In 2007, the community of Greensburg, Kansas was ripped apart by a tornado that left 11 people dead and the city in shreds. In the days following the disaster, the community decided it would seize an opportunity, not just to rebuild, but to build better, smarter, and greener. Today, it is considered a model of environmentally-friendly living.

Greenburg's mayor, Bob Dixson, was in Vancouver this week to speak at a Simon Fraser University conference on renewable cities. He also spoke to On the Coast's Stephen Quinn about his city's environmental turnaround.

What steps were taken to be environmentally-friendly, following the tornado?

City council passed a resolution about six months after the tornado to build all municipal buildings at the US Green Building Council's LEED Platinum level.

At the same time, the National Renewable Energy Lab helped new homeowners look at different floor plans and things they could do in the rebuilding of their homes. We like to say 'everybody in town built as green as they could with the green they had available.'

Going green adds to the cost of rebuilding in the first place, does it not?

It does, but it wasn't just the municipality that bought in LEED certification. We have private enterprises that built a LEED Platinum dealership because it made business sense, long-term.

It's those things you have to look at down the road about what legacy you're going to leave for future generations.

Bob Dixson

Greensburg, Kansas mayor Bob Dixson says the city needed to rebuild from the ground following a devastating tornado. (Jason D'Souza)

The Mayor of Vancouver talks about making us the greenest city in North America by 2020. How much can we learn from your town?

Vancouver is just a bunch of neighbourhoods and a bunch of small communities within one geographical city limit. The city needs to make sure its policies is what those neighbourhoods can do to be environmental stewards.

We didn't set out to be the greenest city in the United States. We set out to be environmental stewards and take care of what we were blessed with.

Where are you in the rebuilding process?

Quite frankly I don't want to be done. Everyone who has built a new home or has a job in town has rebuilt. We're still continuing though to look at jobs and employment.

Are other towns calling you and asking how you did what you've done?

We've held peer-to-peer workshops in Greensburg on other disaster areas. I've been to Calgary after the floods.

We need to share with each other that there is hope, you will recover, and there is a brighter tomorrow. You have to be informed and engaged in that process. You can't just depend on elected officials to say that they're going to do it.


To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: How a small community in Kansas became one of the greenest.