Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
Mother Nature is unquestionably one of travel and tourism's biggest draws. The power produced by the distribution of energy around the Earth causes travelers to venture thousands of miles to witness her wonders, bask in her comfort, and escape her harsh realities. Majestic waterfalls, stunning auroras, pristine beaches, swarming animals, devastating blizzards, or gigantic superstorms, they're all under the influence of her churning energies. Mother Nature is one of our closest companions and occasionally the worst of our enemies.
On May 4th, 2007 an enormous area of low barometric pressure stalled out over the midwestern Great Plains states abutting against an area of high moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting meteorological supercells spawned 123 separate tornadoes in just 56 hours. One in particular, an EF5 tornado 1.7 miles in width, annihilated the small Kansas town of Greensburg leaving a mere 5 percent of structures intact and taking 11 lives.
It only took Mother Nature a few minutes to utterly destroy what over a thousand residents spent lifetimes building and nurturing, and it would take years for those individuals to rebuild their lives, homes, and businesses. But this was not a routine rebuilding effort, quite the contrary. It would become one of the most radical transformations any city had ever attempted.
The citizens of Greensburg came together, deciding that their rebuilding efforts would focus on harnessing the same power Mother Nature used to destroy their town, this time, to ensure its survival. They set out with a motto; "Stronger, Better, Greener!" Their town was to be a model of energy efficiency, sustainable living, and ingenuity based on the natural energies of the Kansas plains.
Their plans weren't brought about by government mandate or corporate greed; they were the organic efforts of townspeople who saw a future based in renewable energies. Mother Nature would be an integral partner in their second chance.
Greensburg had been founded in the 1880s based partially on an enormous hole in the ground. The Big Well, as it's still known, was dug without the aid of machines (the world's largest hand dug well at a depth of 109 feet) in order to secure water for the advancing railroad lines penetrating into the west. Almost immediately after its decommission the Big Well was opened as a historical attraction in 1937, and by the time the May 4th tornado reached it, the well was a national landmark. Being completely underground it was the one thing in Greensburg the tornado could not touch!
Today Greensburg has more LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified structures per capita than any town in the world, and a visit to Greensburg is now far more than just a Big Well (which is an amazing structure in its own right). -- Kevin Richberg
Tourists had been traveling to see the Big Well for decades before the tornado; it was Greensburg's major claim to fame. But during the "Green" rebirth of Greensburg the residents decided to widen their vision of what could attract tourism to their small piece of flat Kansas. Putting all their efforts into creating the "Greenest" town in America (in name and in function) would give them a unique perspective to share with their visitors. Their story would become a tourist draw in and of itself, the ability to illustrate the power of Mother Nature to destroy, the ingenuity of the American spirit to adapt, and the resulting model for a sustainable future to be exported -- all fueled by Mother Nature.
Today Greensburg has more LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified structures per capita than any town in the world, and a visit to Greensburg is now far more than just a Big Well (which is an amazing structure in its own right). The public face of Greensburg's transformation is GreenTown, an organization helping to export the ideas that utterly transformed a community to the rest of the world. And since seeing is believing, they encourage each and every visitor to walk the GreenTour, a map and booklet of where all of Greensburg's innovations are located and descriptions of how they work.
With Mother Nature back in a warm embrace with the people of Greensburg, she would now be able to work her magic to draw in visitors and travelers from around the world. Greensburg shows us a glimpse of what's possible for a future more in tune with the earth's ability to provide for us, and more responsible to upcoming generations.
Visit Greensburg and see how it was done!
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