The UI to partner with Mason City, east-central Iowa communities on sustainability initiatives
Wednesday, March 9, 2016

University of Iowa faculty and students will partner with Mason City and a five-county region in east-central Iowa on community-betterment projects ranging from art to urban revitalization, officials announced Thursday.

The partnership between the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) and Mason City and the East Central Intergovernmental Association will span the 2016–17 academic year. The IISC enlists faculty and students to address issues and challenges identified by each community or region. Past projects have included urban planning, civil and environmental engineering, business, art, and art history.

In Mason City, UI teams expect to complete 1015 sustainability projects in collaboration with the city and community partners. Among the proposed projects are: creating a community plan for sustainability; researching steps to become a bicycle-friendly community; collecting and analyzing transit use data to better serve citizens; and enhancing downtown alleys and parking areas with murals and other artwork.

“Our goal is to participate at the highest level in meeting the needs of our community partners while offering university expertise that coincides with the wishes of our Iowa citizens in Mason City,” says Linda Snetselaar, associate provost in the UI’s Office of Outreach and Engagement, of which the IISC is a part.

Mason City is northern Iowa’s largest city and the state’s sixth-largest retail market with its strong financial, cultural, and governmental sectors.

“Our partnership with the university through this program provides incredible value to Mason City,” says Steven Van Steenhuyse, director of development services for the city. “We gain the expertise of the faculty and the enthusiasm of the students while engaging our citizens in plans and projects to further improve our quality of life.”

The IISC will also partner with the East Central Intergovernmental Association, which provides services and programs to Cedar, Clinton, Delaware, Dubuque, and Jackson counties. Faculty–student teams are expected to tackle 10–15 projects in individual communities, which could include: the creation of a site plan for the development of a pocket neighborhood in the city of Maquoketa; completion of a market-feasibility and strategy plan for the vacant Colesburg Medical Center; and exploring strategies for bringing citizens together in Delmar to identify the town's distinctive qualities.

“The IISC program parallels the work we are doing with many of our small, rural communities and will assist us in furthering our community and economic development work at the grassroots level,” says Kelley Deutmeyer, ECIA executive director. “Resources are very limited in rural communities with populations under 10,000 people.”

The IISC was created in 2009 and pursues a dual mission of enhancing quality of life in Iowa while transforming teaching and learning at the university. The IISC is currently completing a two-year partnership in Decorah/Winneshiek County, Iowa City, and Sioux City. Last year, the IISC completed 31 projects across the three communities. Some projects are in the implementation phase, including a bike-and-pedestrian master plan in Sioux City.

To view past partnerships and projects, visit