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Greening Greensburg | Orion Magazine

One of the things that holds us back from working toward a sustainable world is that it is so much easier to use our current infrastructure than to rebuild, recreate, and reimagine. We’ve also, in America, I’m afraid, become quite unimaginative and uncreative. (The decades of television finally taking their toll?) But what happens if your Midwest town gets leveled by a tornado? Well, if you are the salt-of-the-earth folk of Greensburg, Kansas, you roll up your sleeves, spit, and rebuild a sustainable community that draws in visitors from all over the world. And you do it all without wearing tie dye t-shirts or otherwise converting to Hippiedom.

Despite its name (the original Green was a nineteenth-century stagecoach driver), Greensburg was no hotbed of eco-activism. It was, and is, a conservative farm town, the seat of rural Kiowa County, where Mitt Romney got 86 percent of the vote. But sustainable rebuilding represents, as the townspeople like to say, “solid midwestern values.” Planning for the future, using water wisely, respecting the land, reducing waste: everyone could get behind those goals, and did. Even people well beyond the city limits of Greensburg contributed money, time, resources, and ideas to help remake the town.

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Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy; I pass the winters in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. I'm working on a memoir-based nonfiction book on the American Dream. I blog, quite frequently, and I also have a novel in process, set in Alaska.

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