Thursday, April 3, 2014

Through the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC), University of Iowa professors and students help Iowa communities build a more sustainable tomorrow by addressing the economic, environmental, and socio-cultural issues of today.

This 2014-15 academic year, the IISC will continue its sustainability work in partnership with Decorah/Winneshiek County, Iowa City, and Sioux City. Project details will be announced early this summer.

“We have many good opportunities for projects that could benefit from the university’s expertise while providing students with great learning experiences,” says Brenda Nations, sustainability coordinator for the City of Iowa City.

The IISC is a campus-wide initiative funded through the Better Futures for Iowans grant from the UI Office of the Provost and supported by the Office of Outreach and Engagement.

“Our goal is to participate at the very highest level in meeting the needs of our community partners while offering university expertise that coincides with the wishes of our Iowa citizens in Decorah, Iowa City, and Sioux City,” says Linda Snetselaar, UI associate provost of outreach and engagement.

A new opportunity in Sioux City

Sioux City will work alongside the University of Iowa on projects involving transportation planning, downtown growth and development, historic preservation, public arts, and environmental science and planning. It is the second-largest city the IISC has ever partnered with.

The UI will collaborate with the Siouxland Interstate Metropolitan Planning Council (SIMPCO) on the projects, which Michelle Bostinelos, SIMPCO transportation planning director, anticipates will “enhance the livability of downtown Sioux City” and significantly improve the sustainability of the metro area.

Nic Benson
Nick Benson

“It’s great to show our students another part of the state of Iowa,” says Nick Benson, IISC program coordinator. “Sioux City is showing it really cares about sustainable growth and development over the next decade.”

Sustainability in Iowa City

While some students will be working almost 300 miles away in Sioux City, others are staying home to assist Iowa City with its wide variety of sustainability projects.

“We’re excited to tell the story of sustainability in Iowa City,” Benson says. “The city has proposed a communication campaign for Iowa City’s sustainability achievements. An important part of sustainability is telling your successes.”

The communication campaign will promote and market sustainability initiatives and achievements in the downtown and Northside Marketplace areas.

Benson and Nations anticipate that city government, the UI, businesses, organizations, and individuals will be aligned in an effort to celebrate and foster local sustainability efforts, ranging from development of more co-working spaces to creation of a “green alleys” program encouraging residents to utilize more sustainable forms of transportation like walking and bicycling.

“With the increased collaboration between university faculty and staff and the City of Iowa City, we will have the ability to make connections that will be long-standing,” Nations says. “We are also excited to benefit from the energy and vision that students will provide, and the valuable resources that our hometown university has to offer.”

A return to Decorah

The Decorah and Winneshiek County project proposals carry city, county, and regional importance. Students likely will be working on an economic impact study of the frac sand mining industry, a trail routing and economic impact study of a regional Backbone Trail, and an economic impact study of recreational trails in Winneshiek County.

“Some of the studies will have long-lasting influence on public health, public safety, and quality of life for residents in Winneshiek County and its municipalities,” says Dean Thompson, Winneshiek County supervisor.

UI graduate students in Urban and Regional Planning completed sustainability projects in Decorah during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.

“While Decorah has worked with students and leaders from this program in the past, we look forward to this renewed partnership because of the value of the work product the students bring from their academic environment,” Decorah City Manager Chad Bird says. “We believe the students bring a fresh perspective to Decorah's projects and offer keen insight into solving our issues in a positive and energetic way.”