Great things are happening in Dubuque

The Dubuque mayor and city council decided in 2006 to make the community “a Sustainable City.” Last week federal officials recognized the progress made toward that goal. From an Environmental Protection Agency press release on September 17:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and White House Director of Urban Affairs Adolfo Carrion kicked off their three-city Sustainable Communities Tour today. The officials, representing the administration’s DOT-HUD-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, announced proposals during stops in Chicago and Dubuque that will help communities to improve access to affordable housing, provide additional low-cost transportation options, and protect the local environment.

Also on September 17, the city of Dubuque and IBM

outlined their plans to partner in the development of new “smarter” technologies and implementation strategies to create an international model of sustainability for communities of 200,000 and under, where over 40 percent of the U.S. population resides. Dubuque, a city that is recognized as a national leader in sustainability with its forward-thinking public policy, together with IBM, will address the ever-increasing demands of cities to deliver vital services such as energy and water management, and transportation, all while reducing the community’s impact on the environment.

More details about the recent events, along with some background, are after the jump.

A community task force helped develop 11 key principles and community values to guide development in Dubuque. Fortunately, these plans weren’t left to collect dust like the fruit of many strategic planning sessions. Last year Dubuque hired a sustainable communities coordinator to focus on the city’s “ability to meet the environmental, economic, and social equity needs of today without reducing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

I learned about one example of this collaborative work at the annual meeting of 1000 Friends of Iowa in July. A panelist from Dubuque described how city and school district officials worked with parents and neighbors to redesign and rebuild a downtown school. Too many school districts have closed schools in older neighborhoods in order to build new structures on the edge of the suburban frontier, leaving empty shells downtown and more kids unable to walk to school. Dubuque stakeholders found a way to incorporate green building principles, more outdoor play space and natural lighting to enhance the atmosphere for students.

In part because Dubuque has kept its downtown relevant and vibrant, last year

The U.S. Conference of Mayors named Dubuque the 2008 “Most Livable Small City” in the nation — for attributes that include historical architecture, diverse arts and cultural amenities, abundant natural beauty, a skilled and educated workforce, and numerous quality private and public institutions of higher learning.

In addition, this summer Dubuque won an Economic Development Administration Excellence in Economic Development Award for “excellence in historic preservation-led strategies.”

Last month IBM opened a technology services delivery center, which employs several hundred people in downtown Dubuque’s historic Roshek Building. This press release describes the first project of the “smart cities” program:

In addition to IBM and the City of Dubuque, the current partnership is planned to include local and regional private businesses, non-profit organizations, local and state government agencies, and several federal agencies. The first phase of the smart city partnership includes two projects to enhance the city’s and its citizens’ understanding of their energy consumption and water management, in order to reduce costs and the overall carbon footprint. To accomplish this, IBM will build a Platform for Real-time Integrated Sustainability Monitoring to provide the city with an integrated view of its energy management, including energy consumed by the electric grid, water system, and general city services.

The City is currently implementing a city-wide water meter replacement project and has worked with local manufacturer A.Y. McDonald to integrate a device called an Unmeasured Flow Reducer (UFR). This locally manufactured device is designed to augment the water meter in providing the most accurate measurement possible during low-flow use. The new system will allow consumers to identify waste and consider corrective measures which will translate into better water utilization and energy savings. Reduction in water use will reduce use of both energy and chemicals, resulting in significant savings. As the City of Dubuque enhances its water management system, IBM’s technology will interface with the water systems to ingest water consumption data and give city staff real-time visibility into the overall city water consumption. IBM Research plans to also build new service systems integration, data management, and analytic technologies that will create new insights for consumers and city policymakers.

According to surveys, 30 percent of households have water leaks (leaky faucet, toilet, etc.). The new system will allow consumers and the City Water Department to identify waste and promote changed behavior which will translate into better water utilization and energy savings. As part of the water meter replacement project, the City of Dubuque is creating a rebate program for costs associated with repairing leaks identified by the new metering system. The City will budget $10,000 annually for matching funds to fix leaks and reduce costs for water customers.

The cabinet secretaries’ recent visit to Dubuque grew out of the partnership aimed at creating sustainable communities that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled in March. The EPA joined this effort in June, with all three agencies embracing these “livability principles”:

   *  Provide more transportation choices.  Develop safe, reliable, and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.

   * Promote equitable, affordable housing.  Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

   * Enhance economic competitiveness.  Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs by workers, as well as expanded business access to markets.

   * Support existing communities.  Target federal funding toward existing communities-through strategies like transit oriented, mixed-use development, and land recycling-to increase community revitalization and the efficiency of public works investments and safeguard rural landscapes.

   * Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment.  Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding, and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy

   * Value communities and neighborhoods.  Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe, and walkable neighborhoods-rural, urban, or suburban.

While in Dubuque last Thursday, the cabinet officials toured

the historic Millwork District, which the city is transforming into a sustainable neighborhood with a focus on mixed income housing, multiple transportation options and minimized environmental impact. Local officials described their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas and other harmful emissions, cut transportation costs, and build more affordable homes near employment centers. The day concluded with a town hall meeting at the Grand River Center – a revitalized former brownfields site – where the officials discussed the city’s sustainability efforts with Dubuque residents.

In Dubuque, Secretary Donovan announced new steps that HUD is taking toward achieving the goals of the Sustainable Communities Partnership. The secretary announced new HUD guidelines to make it easier to recycle land and develop multifamily housing in communities across the country, while ensuring the environmental health and safety of future residents. The new guidelines remove a policy barrier to development in towns and cities across the country, often in places near jobs and transportation infrastructure where affordable housing is badly needed.

“There are properties across the country with good access to affordable transportation and jobs that could be developed into affordable housing but aren’t developed because of the federal red tape involved,” said Secretary Donovan. “The new guidelines being announced today will cut the red tape and provide more opportunities to develop affordable housing in communities across America.”

Click here to learn more about the Urban Waters initiative that EPA Administrator Jackson announced in Chicago on September 17. The next day in Denver, Secretary Donovan announced that HUD will award a combined $300 million from stimulus bill funds to 36 “green” public housing transformation projects. Also in Denver, Jackson announced plans to translate the EPA’s “This Is Smart Growth” publication into Spanish and unveiled a new EPA tool “to help local governments identify specific zoning code and land use ordinance fixes that would improve access to affordable housing, provide additional low-cost transportation options, preserve community character, and protect the local environment.”

Transportation Secretary LaHood didn’t announce any new initiatives on this tour, but he has already done a lot to change the orientation of the DOT:

Secretary LaHood announced his commitment to sustainable communities shortly after his confirmation, charging the department’s Policy Office with developing a Livable Communities Initiative that would foster livability measures ranging from bicycle and pedestrian facilities to congestion mitigation, traffic management and improving rural transit. The DOT has also required that states spend at least three percent of their recovery act funding allocation on the Transportation Enhancement Program, a primary source of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure funding. Going forward, Secretary LaHood has proposed to Congress that the next Surface Transportation Reauthorization include livability measures that would streamline transportation planning and increase interagency collaboration.

I can be a big Obamaskeptic, but I give full credit to the president for appointing Donovan, Jackson and LaHood. They are setting new and better priorities in housing, transportation and environmental protection. It’s good to know that Dubuque is helping to lead the way and may become a model for other small and medium-sized American cities to follow.

Dubuque’s not the only Iowa community with forward-thinking leaders. Iowa City adopted an outstanding Subdivision Code, incorporating smart growth principles, and is promoting light rail transit and redevelopment downtown. Both Iowa City and Des Moines have embraced the goal of “complete streets,” which are safe for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders to travel along or across.

But Dubuque’s comprehensive efforts are in a class by themselves in Iowa. Thanks to all who have contributed to this progress.

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