Call to nominate Iowa's best sustainable development projects

Best Development Awards photo 1000FRIENDSBDA-150x150_zpsg4vgs3lg.jpg

The deadline is approaching for Iowans to nominate projects for 1000 Friends of Iowa’s Best Development Awards. Since 2005, the awards have recognized good development and planning practices by cities, companies, non-profit organizations, or local leaders.

I have long been involved with 1000 Friends of Iowa, though I have no role in selecting the award winners. The external panel of judges will look for buildings and projects that “help advance sustainability across our state by considering site placement, design, water efficiency, energy management, materials and resources used, indoor environmental quality, public use, and long-term benefits.” There’s no fee to apply for an award in any of the following categories: New Residential, Renovated Residential, New Commercial/Civic, Renovated Commercial/Civic, Mixed Use, Leadership, or Storm Water Management. Click here to download an application form to submit by December 15.

Every year I am inspired to read about the latest batch of Best Development Awards. After the jump I’ve posted summaries of the winning projects from 2014. You can find full descriptions and photos of them all here, including bullet points on “smart growth principles” that impressed the judges. Complete archives on all the Best Development Awards from the past decade are available at the 1000 Friends of Iowa website.

Bonus trivia for Iowa politics junkies: the Green Pilot Streetscape Project in West Union (Fayette County), which won the 2014 Best Development Award in the Renovated Commercial/Civic category, indirectly spawned the bogus “heated sidewalks” claim that became one of the big lies of the 2010 general election campaign.

Continue Reading...

Iowa local election results discussion thread

What election results were you watching tonight, Bleeding Heartland readers? I was excited to see the “Core 4” progressive slate sweep the Iowa City council elections, despite a well-financed campaign for the rival group, representing Chamber of Commerce types who have long dominated local government. John Deeth described what was at stake in those races, and Tom Carsner put it succinctly in a letter to the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

The “growth at any price to grow the tax base” philosophy of the present council majority puts Iowa City at financial risk when one TIF-financed Big Bang project turns south. A series of smaller investor-financed mixed use — business and residential — projects can energize multiple neighborhoods and build a more reliable and sustainable tax base.

[…] I urge Iowa City to welcome the just, equal, affordable, inclusive and sustainable growth vision presented by John Thomas, Rockne Cole, Pauline Taylor and Jim Throgmorton. Vote for them to shake loose the scared establishment of the present City Council.

UPDATE: In his analysis of the Iowa City results, Deeth sees outgoing Mayor Matt Hayek’s “ham-handed editorial” in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on October 14 as “a turning point in the campaign.” Bleeding Heartland user corncam points to another factor that may have helped the “Core 4.”

Davenport voters resoundingly elected Frank Klipsch mayor, ousting incumbent Bill Gluba by more than a 2: 1 margin. It’s the end of a long political career for Gluba, who won his first election (to the Iowa legislature) 45 years ago. Gluba was an activist even before running for office, participating in the 1963 march on Washington for civil rights. His handling of some local controversies this year, including his role in forcing out Davenport’s city manager, prompted the Quad-City Times to endorse Klipsch, a former CEO of the local YMCA who has a “reputation for bringing diverse groups together” and a “more collaborative style.”

In my own corner of the world, I was pleasantly surprised that challengers Threase Harms and Zac Bales-Henry defeated the two Windsor Heights City Council incumbents on the ballot. CORRECTION: Only Harms won her seat outright. Bales-Henry will have to face Charlene Butz in a December 8 runoff election. Butz and Dave Burgess were frequent “no” votes on any kind of change or progress, and Butz was a particularly dedicated opponent of new sidewalks on streets where they are badly needed. Bales-Henry promised to work to “Create a more efficient and walkable neighborhood […] and ensure that each citizen can walk, run or bike to any location within city limits safely and easily,” as well as trying to improve the local trails system. Harms also expressed support for new sidewalks on key city streets. You never know what could become a hot-button issue in local politics, and the sidewalks question has been one of the most divisive issues in Windsor Heights over the past decade. UPDATE: The anti-sidewalks voters may come out in force for the December 8 runoff, but even if Butz is re-elected, there might be enough votes for change, because two of the incumbents who were not on the ballot this year (Steve Peterson and Tony Timm) have expressed support for new sidewalks in the past.

My son and I stopped at Harms’ home while trick-or-treating on Friday. When I mentioned that I’d seen lots of her yard signs around town, she responded, “Yard signs don’t vote.” Right answer! Clearly she knows how to GOTV, because she finished way ahead of the rest of the field in our at-large elections. That’s a rare accomplishment for a first-time candidate running against incumbents.

UPDATE: I was sorry to see that Cedar Rapids residents rejected a levy to fund public libraries. Todd Dorman covered the campaign for library funding over the weekend.

Voters in Des Moines re-elected Mayor Frank Cownie and the city councillors who were on the ballot. I didn’t realize that Cownie is now the longest-serving Des Moines mayor. In the most hotly-contested race, the open seat in Ward 2 on the east side of Des Moines, turnout was down and Linda Westergaard, backed by business interests including a realtors’ lobbying group, defeated Marty Mauk.

photo credit: Mark Carlson

Continue Reading...

"Burdensome" is in the eye of the beholder

Governor Terry Branstad issued two new executive orders last week. One directive rescinded 12 executive orders issued between 1998 and 2009, including two that were intended to make state government operate more efficiently. Branstad’s other order granted “stakeholder groups” new levers for blocking potentially “burdensome” administrative rules.

Highlights from the new and the disappeared executive orders are after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Iowa City introducing car-sharing program

The University of Iowa and the city of Iowa City announced a new car sharing program yesterday, available to local residents as well as to university students, faculty, and staff. Iowa City is already bike-friendly, well-served by public transit and the most walkable city in Iowa. Car sharing will be an excellent option for Iowa City residents who need a car only occasionally for errands or day trips. Many cities in other states have similar car sharing services. A friend of mine has used Zipcar for years and found it much cheaper than making monthly payments for a car, insurance, and parking in his area.

More details on the new car-sharing program are after the jump. On a related note, Erin Gustafson wrote a piece for the Sierra Club’s blog about the 30 bike-sharing programs that have popped up around the U.S. in recent years. Members of the Des Moines Bike Collective and Iowa Bicycle Coalition helped get Des Moines B-cycle going downtown.

Continue Reading...

Report shows Iowa failing to keep up with road maintenance

Like other states, Iowa is digging a fiscal hole by not spending enough to repair roads, according to a report Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense released this month. The non-profit Smart Growth America is “the only national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for and leading coalitions to bring smart growth practices to more communities nationwide.” Taxpayers for Common Sense is “a non-partisan budget watchdog” seeking “to achieve a government that spends taxpayer dollars responsibly and operates within its means.”

The “Repair Priorites” report notes that less than half of Iowa’s roads are in good condition, yet the state continues to spend disproportionately on new road construction rather than repair. Table 1 on pages 10 and 11 of this pdf file shows that Iowa has about 22,999 “state-owned lane-miles of major roads,” of which just 10,558 (46 percent) are in good condition. Iowa would need to spend about $552 million per year to repair and preserve state roads in good condition, but that figure exceeds the total Iowa Department of Transportation budget for capital investments. Between 2004 and 2008, Iowa was spending about $172 million per year on repair and preservation for state-maintained roads. That’s roughly 32 percent of the capital investment budget. Meanwhile, Iowa added 363 state-owned lane miles between 2004 and 2008, spending more than $190 million annually on road expansion (see table A4 on pages 29 and 30).

As time passes and roads deteriorate from “good” to “fair” or “poor” condition, repairs become far more expensive. Figure 3 on page 12 of the report shows that maintaining a road “in good condition over time costs less than half the cost of making major repairs after letting the same road deteriorate to poor condition.”

Excerpts from the “Repair Priorities” executive summary and Iowa fact sheet are after the jump.

Governor Terry Branstad has suggested that Iowa needs to increase the gas tax to pay for the long-term needs of the state’s road system. To protect taxpayers’ long-term interests, the governor and officials like Department of Transportation Director Paul Trombino should support investing more on road maintenance to reduce future costs.

Underscoring Iowa’s failure to maintain its vital infrastructure, a report Transportation for America released in March indicated that Iowa is the third-worst state for structurally deficient bridges. Earlier this year, Smart Growth America’s report on “smart transportation” policies for Iowa (pdf) recommended that state policy-makers: allocate more funds to maintain and repair roads and bridges; invest more in public transportation; assign some transportation money to grants that would reward “innovative least cost solutions”; and revisit the spending priorities in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Long Range Transportation Plan.

Continue Reading...
View More...