Urban Fold

How Do You Rebuild A Town?

The residents of Greensburg, Kansas can look to other communities resurrected from disaster for lessons of how to rebuild their town from scratch.

"Hunter Drugs is gone, with its ruffled blue-and-white fringe of an awning, its walnut and marble booths, its red leatherette and chrome stools perched before the old-fashioned soda fountain. So is the Twilight Theater, with its pressed-tin ceilings that date from the time it showed silent pictures. And no cowboys or anyone else can shop at the Cowboy Supply store, with its giant sign outside in the shape of a Stetson-topped wrangler and the words "Howdy Podner, Come In."

The devastation leaves Greensburg, population 1,500, shadowed by a colossal question mark: When a thriving community cataclysmically finds itself reduced to rubble, how can it put itself back together?

Many towns - floodstruck or tumbled by tornadoes or hurricanes - have wrestled with that question, and there is no single solution. But people who have been through it, as well as experts in town planning and disaster recovery, say there are pitfalls and priorities, and many things a place like Greensburg should keep in mind: How historically or culturally significant were the buildings? What is the town's economic engine? Where do people work? How young or old is the population? Is there a visionary leader?"

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