But more than four years later, New Orleans is still struggling with the nation's highest rates of murder and child homelessness – problems that make the much-publicized new eco-homes by Brad Pitt's Katrina relief organization, Make It Right, seem like superficial achievements.
Greensburg, however, a town of 1,400 in rural Kansas, may give you hope:
On May 4, 2007, a category-five tornado killed 11 residents and leveled 95 percent of the Greensburg. But days later, a town once known for the world's largest hand-dug well, decided to set itself apart in a different way: Greensburg residents vowed to rebuild the town as a model, green community and become the first U.S. city to have all municipal buildings meet LEED platinum standards.
Today, the Greensburg community center is LEED-certified and the city hall is expected to receive the same recognition. Last October, workers broke ground on the Greensburg Wind Farm, a 10-turbine tract that will harness the very force that demolished the town. A flurry of construction projects, including a series of model eco-homes and a new K-12 school, are underway.
"The tornado was a crisis that bonded people, which I think is a natural element of shared adversity, and the community was able to tap into that in a big way," Daniel Wallach, founder of the grassroots organization Greensburg GreenTown, told Mother Earth.