Governing Affect: Neoliberalism and Disaster Reconstruction

By Roberto E. Barrios | Go to book overview

9. Rebuilding It Better
THE ETHICAL CHALLENGES OF DISASTER RECOVERY

On a crisp and bright day in May 2012, community organizers from Olive Branch met with various city officials and residents of another disasterdevastated town, Greensburg, Kansas. Accompanied by academics, researchers, and journalists, the Olive Branchers had traveled eleven hours by chartered bus from southern Illinois to see how members of a comparable community had taken on their own reconstruction process. As described in chapter 8, on May 4, 2007, Greensburg was almost completely leveled by an ef5-rated tornado. Prior to the catastrophe, Greensburg was experiencing population losses similar to that of Olive Branch. Once a predominantly farming community with some industry, the small Kansas town’s population had steadily declined in the preceding decades as younger generations sought employment and life opportunities in major urban areas. In 1990 Greensburg counted 1,782 residents. By 2000 this number had decreased to 1,560, and in 2007, on the eve of the storm, Greensburg had a population of 1,265 (U.S. Census 2016).

As in the case of New Orleans and many other communities devastated by disasters, a number of community leaders, government officials, and assisting academics saw the catastrophe as an opportune moment to reflect on the town’s long-term development trends. Concerned with Greensburg’s population contraction, this group of local leaders and external advisers considered approaches to reconstruction that would shift the town’s pattern of resident loss to one of resident gain. Among the approaches they examined, the idea of rebuilding the town as a prime example of energy efficiency, renewable energy production, and sustainability stood out. Through the collaboration of planning teams, private energy companies, and substantial financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Greensburg followed a path toward green reconstruction.

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