Rebuilding Greensburg The Green Way After it was flattened by a tornado in 2007, a Kansas town decided to rebuild in a completely "green," sustainable way. Greensburg's former mayor, John Janssen, discusses the decision to restructure his community.
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Rebuilding Greensburg The Green Way

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Rebuilding Greensburg The Green Way

Rebuilding Greensburg The Green Way

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ALEX COHEN, host:

If the residents of Winfield rebuild, they may want to consider what Greensburg, Kansas did. A little over a year ago, a massive tornado hit the town and nearly every building there was destroyed. When Greensburg started to rebuild, they decided to go green, really green. They used the lead platinum guidelines. Those are the highest stands for eco friendly design. Now the town's new homes and public buildings are up to 50 percent more energy efficient. But initially going green wasn't an easy sell says John Janssen. Janssen was mayor during much of Greensburg's reconstruction.

Mr. JOHN JANSSEN (Former Mayor of Greensburg, Kansas): The way we approached this, we said ok, you know, we've got a clean slate, we want to do this right. These folks out here are way independent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JANSSEN: And you're not gong to shove it down their throat. This is not red state, green state. You know it's not liberal conservative which a lot of people associate green with kind of the touchy feeling liberal movement. But it's not. It's an economic issue. We pitched it on the basis that if you do this right, whether your buying a modular home and you make them insulated better, you put better windows in it or if you come out here and build a really neat ICF house or (unintelligible) house, anyway cut it, the key is get the same where your utility bills are manageable and that made it an easy sell to be quite honest.

COHEN: Money talks.

Mr. JANSSEN: It's an economic issue, it's not a red green, you know red or blue issue, it's a green issue, and it's dollars. The interesting thing that happened is that even the people who are rebuilding homes, it's become competitive. You know, I'm going to put in this great window and my utility bill is going to be 74 dollars a month. Well, I've got better windows than you do and my utility bill is going to 60 dollars a month you know. They are replacing houses that were built 1915 through 1950 so anything you put up today is going to be a lot more friendly than what you had before.

COHEN: Mr. Janssen, it's been about a little over a year now, how are things coming along there? Mr. JANSSEN: My wife's expression is that houses spring up like tulips. We've have a huge building boom naturally since (unintelligible) houses.

COHEN: Is your house one of these new green houses?

Mr. JANSSEN: It will be if we ever get started.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: Wait a minute, all of this rebuilding is going on, and you're not in on the action? What's going on?

Mr. JANSSEN: Let me assure you that I have plenty on my plate. Between being married and trying to keep my accounting practice alive and our farming operation. My son does a lot of it, but we were short handed, and so I was doing quite a bit of the farming and so the house kind of took a back seat. My wife has informed me that since I am no longer mayor the house has to move to the front seat. So we've got plans back from the draftsman, and we're about to run them by an architect out in Colorado to make sure he's comfortable with what we did on passive solar, and if he's comfortable at that point, we're going to push forward and probably break ground in the next 30 days.

COHEN: Well, you now at least have the advantage of having seen all these other places being built based on what you've seen there over the past year. What do you think is the most important lesson that you're going to take going in to the building of your house?

Mr. JANSSEN: I think the biggest thing is maybe the earthquake may have been the best thing that ever happened. The tornado was on a Friday evening and on Tuesday morning we had folks in place in Kansas ordering modular homes to bring in to town. And I mean this thing was so devastating was that people were basically shell shocked, if that's a polite term for it. I think some of them have regretted that they reacted so quickly and instead of taking a little time to plan and think about how they wanted to do things. We're on the forth rendition of our own house, so we have cobbled around quite a bit trying to decide what we've wanted and what we can get along without. Because in the green sense, the best environmental space you build is one that you don't build. The smaller is better thing, and so we've continually tried to figure out how to downside our house a little bit.

So I think the biggest thing for people that have hit a snag like this, and there have been what 600 tornados since this spring? If it is a one or two house deal, people are going to rebuild immediately. But if you lose a big portion of the community, I think it's really critical that they take a half step back and really rethink. Do we want to build it back exactly or is there a better plan? Planning is a lot more critical than people give it credit for in this situation.

COHEN: John Janssen, is the former mayor of Greensburg, Kansas. Thank you.

Mr. JANSSEN: Thank you.

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