Path Home Shows 2009 Show Archive May 2009 Show 0921 Daniel Wallach - Rebuilding Greensburg, Kansas

Daniel Wallach - Rebuilding Greensburg, Kansas

Two years ago an EF-5 tornado leveled the small town of Greensburg, Kansas. But from that tragedy, city leaders decided to rebuild, this time in a much more sustainable manner.
Daniel Wallach - Rebuilding Greensburg, Kansas

Daniel Wallach

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Greensburg, KS

Show Dates

Show 0921: Interview with Daniel Wallach - Greensburg, Kansas

Air date: May 24, 2009



Rob:  Well it’s now been two years since an EF-5 tornado swept through the small town of Greensburg, Kansas, leveling the town to the ground.  But from that tragedy, city leaders decided to rebuild, this time in a much more sustainable manner.  I sat down with Daniel Wallach, the director of Greensburg’s green town project.  Mr Wallach, no one would ever wish the disaster that hit your town.  Has it given you the opportunity to, kind of like a phoenix, rise from the ashes?

Daniel Wallach:  Absolutely, you know there’s, you hear maxims about opportunity coming out of crisis.  Well, Greensburg is a living example of that, and while it was a terrible tragedy, and we grieved the loss of the eleven people who died, virtually all in the community have seen it as the recovery of something very positive.  The town was dying, like so many rural communities.  And this gave the community kind of a reawakening and some opportunities that it wouldn’t otherwise have.  So it’s, overall, there’s a very positive feeling in Greensburg about what’s happened and where we’re, what we’ve done with it.

Rob:  What type of lessons do you think rural America can learn from what has gone on in the past two years?

Wallach:  Whew; there’s a lot.  The bonding that happens in rural communities around adversity is a powerful lesson, I think, for the world, for, certainly for our country.  It’s something that concerns me about the loss of rural communities, because there is a cultural ethic and value in coming together around adversity, around crisis.  And, again I think that’s why Greensburg has struck such a chord internationally, is watching this community come together and, you know, do this collective barn raising.  It’s been a very powerful experience.  If you can do it without severe crisis, do it.  And I think, because the tornado was so sudden, it kind of shocked people out of a slumber.  I think in other rural communities, they’ve got to wake up, because the communities themselves are dying.  I call rural communities endangered species.  I really think they are.  And one of the most important lessons, and this is what I learned before working in Greensburg, is that rural communities that don’t have distinct identities don’t fare well.  You need a distinct identity.  You need something that makes you stick out from all the other communities.  You need something that makes people want to travel to your community.  And I think that is a real opportunity in rural America is that kind of tourism.  In Greensburg we’re calling it eco tourism, but just generally it’s backroads tourism.

Rob:  Why did you choose to go green when you started rebuilding?

Wallach:  We chose to go green, first of all, the name Greensburg, even though that was named for Cannonball Green and had nothing to do with sustainability.  But with a name like Greensburg and the popularity of the issue, it made sense.  It made sense for a lot of reasons.  This is a town that was devastated, and people wanted to find some meaning in that devastation, and they could do that by coming back as a model of doing things differently; they had a clean slate.  And we saw that as a real opportunity.  And you know, why do things the status quo?  Why?  You know, energy, clean energy is a major issue.  Why are we importing oil?  It just seems to do nothing but cause problems, so.  Let’s talk about harnessing our own resources of solar and wind and keeping those dollars in the community.  And then it was about keeping multiple generations in the community; the kids and young adults, many of whom had already left the community, because there was no work there.  We’re thrilled about the concept and about coming back home and living and working there.  And that’s already happening.  School’s already bigger now, in terms of enrollment, than it was pre tornado.

Rob:  Well some Oklahoma FFA students helped in greening up Greensburg after the tornado.  To see this web-only feature, simply head to our website at and click on this week’s value added.