Many eyes are on Greensburg's progress—both here and abroad. City Administrator Steve Hewitt testified last June before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming on overcoming the resistance of some government agencies to building back green. Greensburg officials, including Dixson, even traveled to China's Sichuan Province last December to begin an "eco-partnership" with Mianzhu, a city destroyed in last year's catastrophic earthquake.
"We can learn about how China is dealing with growth, with industry," Hewitt says. "Maybe they can learn from our green master plan."
Hewitt envisions Greensburg stabilizing at a population of 3,000 to 5,000—big enough to be economically and culturally viable, yet small enough to retain the advantages of a rural community: "walkability, connectivity and quality of life," he says.
By the standards of independent-minded western Kansans, the green rebuilding process has involved an unusual degree of meetings and group decision-making. This was "outside a lot of people's comfort zone," Ruth Ann Wedel says. "Not everyone loves it. But gradually a lot of people have come around.... For those who've decided to stay and be involved, it's created a more tight-knit community."
Although the tornado destroyed the three-year-old deli/catering/grocery business Wedel operated with her husband, both the past and the future compelled them to stay. "My husband grew up here, his father is still here," 61-year-old Wedel says. And "it was exciting to think of the possibilities" of the rebuilding.
Wedel now works as "an all-around staffer" with Greensburg GreenTown, a nonprofit developing a chain of "eco-homes." Each will demonstrate different designs and technologies, to attract tourists who want to book stays and experience ecofriendly living. The group is funded by donations, ranging from over $50,000 from Caroma, an Australian manufacturer of water-saving toilets, to dozens of individuals sending in $25 or less. Its first project, the "Silo Eco-Home," is being sponsored by private and corporate donors, including Florida-based Armour Homes, Caroma and others. The group has also channeled donations of green building supplies to Greensburg residents. "I'm sort of their power broker," Wedel says. "I know people here and what they need."
Dixson knows that an influx of new residents and businesses attracted by the town's green vision, however welcome, will alter the character of Greensburg. He doesn't describe the change in conventional political terms, such as conservative versus liberal. Rather, a more individualistic, less environmentally conscientious way of life will have to give way to a more resource-conscious, collaborative approach.
It's not even a question of past versus future, Dixson says; enviro-sense is not out of character for Kansans. "We're so aware of our environment here in rural America, especially when you talk about energy and water use," he says. "We in the Midwest—our ancestors have always known about that."
Greensburg's mayor never utters the words "global warming," but he is clearly aware that with so many eyes on Greensburg, what the town does next will matter well beyond its limits. "We know we have been called to an awesome responsibility," Dixson says. "We know we are the new pioneers in the sustainable green movement."