Last weekend, Greensburg hosted the creative and insightful Debbie Petersen, a Walt Disney Imagineer and the Executive Creative Director of Disney in Orlando, Florida.
Imagineers are given an allowance to explore anywhere around the world or take part in any activity that would inspire their creativity. After hearing an interview on the radio about local business Studio 54 and Scott and Susan Reinecke’s reuse of tornado glass to fashion works of art, a visit to Greensburg resonated with Debbie. As she familiarized herself with the town's history, she became fascinated with its art, innovation, and ingenuity.
While in Greensburg, visiting Studio 54 was essential, but Debbie also wanted to speak with the community and understand how Greensburg came to be what it is today. She toured the town, spoke with middle school students at Kiowa County Schools, and started gaining a better idea of the process Greensburg took to come back as a sustainable community.
Debbie also presented at two community sessions, held at Kiowa County Memorial Hospital, that enabled the public to learn about her background and her 36-year career with the company, and the history of the Disney amusement parks. Along with GreenTown Executive Director Daniel Wallach, she also opened up the room for a discussion about how to 'Imagineer' the next steps for Greensburg.
She related her work to that of the Greensburg community, and provided insight into the realities of being a model community, or brand, like Disney. During the discussion, one community member observed that "Greensburg is like the EPCOT of the prairie." (EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, originally envisioned by Walt Disney as a Utopian city of the future, located on the Walt Disney World campus in Florida.) Debbie, a member of the EPCOT team, really appreciated this concept and encouraged residents to continue thinking in this fashion. Disney had said that EPCOT "will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems," much like the vision of Greensburg and the Green Initiative. Debbie added that Disney is about storytelling and providing the opportunity for people to be a part of those stories. Greensburg has the capability to be a storyteller by bringing people in, sharing stories of the past, and educating visitors on the future plans of community rejuvenation and sustainable development. Greensburg serves as the experimental training ground of tomorrow, and that is done by recognizing that there are great Imagineers living within the community. This town is built to innovate, and this innovation requires a team of visionaries.
Debbie concluded by noting that by "combining the perfect blend of creativity and technical know-how, personal connections can be made and everything will come together to tell one sweeping story." These closing remarks were as much about Greensburg as they were about Disney. It is important to take risks, bring people together, and challenge questions from local people along the lines of, "Why would anyone want to come to Greensburg?" Greensburg is the Tomorrowland of sustainable communities, so why wouldn't you want to visit?
GreenTown is soliciting input from the community to find the best way to continue this conversation.