# Sustainability

Time to nominate Iowa's "best development" projects

The non-profit organization 1000 Friends of Iowa is accepting nominations for the 2011 Best Development Awards until early August. These awards recognize projects that incorporate “smart growth” principles and sustainable practices, which are good for local economies, the environment, and quality of life. The awards cover six categories: new residential, renovated residential, new civic or commercial, renovated civic or commercial, mixed-use, and leadership.

Anyone can nominate a project for a best development award. The project should be completed, not still in the planning stage. You can download the nomination form here. After the jump I’ve posted more details on the criteria judges will consider when evaluating projects. I’m active with 1000 Friends of Iowa, but I have never been involved in selecting the Best Development Award winners.

Mixed-use projects incorporate residential and business space, either in the same building or in a walkable neighborhood. The leadership award can apply to a city as well as to a developer. For instance, the city of Dubuque won leadership awards for its Unified Development Code (2010) and for its Historic Millwork District Master Plan (2008). The city of Iowa City won the 2009 leadership award for its newly-adopted Subdivision Code.

To give you a sense of different types of projects that qualify as “best developments”, I’ve posted information below about the 2010 winning projects in Des Moines, Dubuque, Ladora, Iowa City, and Davenport. The city of Dubuque and the Lakes Community Land Trust in Spirit Lake shared last year’s leadership award.

Click here for photos and information about the 2009 Best Development Award winners: the Marshalltown Public Library (new commercial/civic), Court Avenue Lofts in Des Moines (new residential), Durrant Building in Dubuque (renovated commercial/civic), Westfield Avenue Lofts in Waterloo (renovated residential), Plaza Towers in Iowa City (mixed use), and the Historic Millwork District Master Plan in Dubuque (leadership).

Projects in Davenport, Dubuque, Sioux City, Marion, West Des Moines and Iowa City won Best Development Awards in 2008. The ISU Design West building in Sioux City is one of the best Iowa redevelopment projects I’ve ever seen.

Projects in Dubuque, Elkader, Davenport, Lake Park (near Spirit Lake) and the City of Okoboji won Best Development Awards in 2007. Projects in Conrad, Central City, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Des Moines won Best Development Awards in 2006.

The 2005 award-winners were Iowa City’s Peninsula neighborhood, the Van Allen building in Clinton, the America’s River Project in Dubuque and the Strand Theater in Grinnell.

On a related note, I was disturbed but not surprised to learn that the House Republican-backed 2012 appropriations bill covering the Environmental Protection Agency would eliminate funding for all of the EPA’s smart growth programs. The House has already voted on some amendments to that legislation and will likely pass the bill this week.

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Group ranks most and least walkable Iowa cities

The Seattle-based group Walk Score released its 2011 rankings of the country’s most walkable cities today. At this page you can view the “walk scores” of the 2,500 largest U.S. cities, or look at cities grouped by region or state.

After the jump I’ve posted some of the Iowa findings, as well as background on the “walk score” and why that number matters. Hawkeye fans can be proud that Iowa City barely edged out sustainability champion Dubuque for having the most amenities within walking distance of its residents.

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Dubuque setting the standard for Iowa "green" cities

The city of Dubuque continues to build its reputation as Iowa’s most eco-friendly city. Governor Terry Branstad’s administration recently announced the winners of the upcoming Iowa Environmental Excellence awards, and one is going to the Sustainable Dubuque initiative. Granted, Branstad isn’t known to have an eye for “environmental excellence,” but in this case the award is well-deserved. After the jump I’ve posted the press release announcing other winners of this year’s awards. Click here to learn more about what Sustainable Dubuque has accomplished during the past five years. The initiative is one big reason Dubuque has received so much recognition:

*Named most livable small city in the country, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors (2008)

*Honored for “excellence in historic preservation-led strategies,” according to the Economic Development Administration, an agency within the federal Commerce Department (2009).

*Chosen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation and Department of Housing and Urban Development for sustainability pilot programs (2009)

*Named All-Star Community by the Iowa League of Cities  (2010)

*Received leadership award from 1000 Friends of Iowa for adopting a Unified Development Code that “promotes best practices in sustainable development and will serve as a model for other cities in Iowa” (2010)

*Honored as third-place finalist and gold-standard community for cities with populations between 20,000 and 75,000, at the International Awards for Livable Communities (2010)

Various business groups and business-oriented media have also cited Dubuque as one of the best places to work, live or raise a family in the country.

Meanwhile, Dubuque’s public transit system (“the Jule”) just won an award from the Federal Transit Administration Region VII and was recognized by the Iowa Department of Transportation as Iowa’s “Most Improved Urban Transit System.” The Jule managed to reduce the cost per ride by 14.5 percent during the past fiscal year while the number of rides taken increased by 10.7 percent. Many Iowans think of public transit only in a large urban context, but there is demand for reliable bus service in many smaller Iowa cities and towns.

Civic leaders have implemented eco-friendly initiatives elsewhere in this state (I’m looking at you, Cedar Falls, Davenport, Des Moines and Iowa City), but Dubuque is setting the bar high and striving to do more. Just last week, the city council voted unanimously to approve a goal of using 90 percent fewer plastic shopping bags in Dubuque by 2017. The city council had considered banning the plastic bags by 2014 but opted for a gradual approach through outreach and education.

This October, Dubuque will host its fourth annual “Growing Sustainable Communities” conference. I hope staff or city council members from many other towns will attend. Conference details are after the jump. Registration is free for the first 100 students to sign up.

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Iowa colleges have room to improve on green front

The Sierra Club published its fourth annual “Cool Schools” report, which seeks to identify the greenest college campuses in the country. Researchers sent detailed questionnaires about sustainability programs to 900 colleges and universities, of which 162 responded. None of Iowa’s state universities returned the Sierra Club’s survey, and only two of the state’s private colleges participated. The full rankings show Grinnell in 104th place and Wartburg College in Waverly at the bottom in 162nd place. Keep in mind, though, that about 82 percent of schools contacted didn’t return the survey. Wartburg finished last among colleges with administrators who care enough about sustainability to respond to a national environmental organization.

The Sierra Club considered ten criteria:

Although energy supply carried the most significance, nine other categories were considered in measuring a school’s commitment to sustainability: efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, financial investments, and a catchall section titled “other initiatives.”

Making energy supply the most important factor put Iowa colleges at a disadvantage, because so much of the electricity generated in this state comes from coal. Perhaps Grinnell, Wartburg, or other Iowa colleges could incorporate more wind, solar or biomass power. I noticed that the number one school on Sierra’s list, Vermont’s Green Mountain College, has a facility to generate power using “biogas” (methane derived from cow manure).

Wartburg’s best score came in the “efficiency” category. I downloaded the college’s completed questionnaire from this page and was impressed to read that 99 percent of campus lighting fixtures are energy-efficient, while 75 percent of campus appliances are energy-star rated. Wartburg has room to improve in all the categories, but especially in “purchasing” and “investment,” where the college scored zero points.

In contrast, Grinnell scored a perfect 10 for investment; according to the completed questionnaire, “the college’s investment policy includes a social responsibility provision that encompasses environmental/sustainability factors.” The college also did very well in the waste management, administration, food and transportation categories. Grinnell received its lowest score for purchasing policies.

Grinnell and Wartburg administrators deserve credit for taking sustainability seriously on campus. I hope that next year, more Iowa colleges let the Sierra Club evaluate their green practices. That means you, Luther College (Wartburg’s rival in everything, including conservation). I wonder how the University of Iowa would measure up against Big Ten rivals Michigan (number 46 on the Sierra Club rankings), Illinois (number 66), Penn State (number 80) and Northwestern (number 115). Could Iowa State beat Big 12 schools Missouri (number 118) or Kansas (number 127)? Maybe the Center for Energy and Environmental Education in Cedar Falls could help the University of Northern Iowa score highest among Iowa’s regents universities.  

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