Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dubuque Major Roy Buol has assigned young people the task of communicating the importance of sustainability. 

“If sustainability is going to be successful globally, it has to be driven by the younger generation,” Buol says.

The city of Dubuque shares its mayor’s vision for promoting sustainability, and is partnering with the University of Iowa’s School of Urban and Regional Planning on 10 projects during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.   

On May 8, 2012, graduate students in the School of Urban and Regional Planning presented reports to the Dubuque City Council, detailing the results of five sustainability studies the students completed in Dubuque. The city’s leaders not only gained solid data from the graduate students’ efforts, but they also received specific recommendations for next steps toward city-wide sustainability. 

“I can’t tell you the value that we’ve gotten out of this partnership with the University of Iowa,” says Cori Burbach, Sustainable Community Coordinator for Dubuque. “The key takeaway for me is that we’re not going to have five reports that go sit on a shelf somewhere. Each of the partners and everyone we’ve worked with has our marching orders to go forward and use this information in a valuable way.” 

During the 2011-2012 academic year, five groups of seven students worked with local partners on projects related to the city’s Sustainable Dubuque Initiative, which was launched in 2006:

  • Identify indicators and indicator measurements for the city’s 11 sustainability principles
  • Map renewable energy assets city-wide
  • Create an accurate portrait of poverty in Dubuque
  • Promote local foods and local institutions
  • Design a Green and Healthy Homes program 

View the final project reports.

The students’ efforts are part of the School of Urban and Regional Planning’s ongoing community-based outreach program, the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, which began in 2009. 

“These projects represent what a public university like the University of Iowa can do for our communities and the state of Iowa,” says Chuck Connerly, Director of the UI School of Urban and Regional Planning. “The projects follow a long, fine tradition of public service that all of our state universities in Iowa have provided.” 

Connerly considers this partnership with Dubuque an outstanding educational enterprise for his students. 

“Here was a town—like a lot of other towns in Iowa—that had seen better days and had high rates of unemployment back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and lost some industry, and is using sustainability to help turn things around with regard to economic development,” Connerly says. 

“Ground-breaking” renewable energy project
Students involved in the renewable energy asset mapping project worked with the city of Dubuque to identify potential renewable energy sources—including ground source heat pump, solar, and wind—for every parcel in the city. 

Using GIS (Geographic Information System) and 3D modeling, they mapped a complete picture of Dubuque's energy needs and energy source potential. With these maps, students have shown the city of Dubuque how to balance energy use and energy production as the city determines how best to invest in renewable energy sources. 

“It’s a ground-breaking project,” says Robyn Fennig, group member and recent graduate of the School of Urban and Regional Planning. “This is the first comprehensive study of this kind. We haven’t found anything internationally that has incorporated all three technologies at the urban scale. There are some studies that have done building-specific analysis or neighborhood analysis. 

“The cool thing about our project is that it takes publicly available data and uses open-source software that most people have already.” 

The students also developed an economic development tool for the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation that shows current and potential businesses how Dubuque will maximize dollars spent on renewable energy sources.

After the project's completion, the template and a description of the mapping process will be available online. By publishing details about this novel approach to urban planning, the UI students hope their work in Dubuque will assist many Iowa municipalities. 

“This is an absolutely wonderful group of students. This group of students is smart, creative, but they were also very responsible and conscientious,” says Dan McDonald, Vice President of Existing Business of the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation. “The group decided from Day 1 that their goal was not to encourage every home owner and business to put a solar panel or a small wind turbine on their building. They produced a set of tools that will allow businesses and residences to make smart, well-informed and intelligent decisions. 

“In our opinion at Greater Dubuque, they knocked it out of the park. They did a fantastic job. If there’s any debate or questioning the next generation, I feel better today than I did before I met them. I have all the confidence in the world in these young folks.” 

The students were selected to present their project at the National Planning Conference in Los Angeles in April. Connerly, Fennig, Buol, and McDonald also were invited to discuss the project and the partnership between the UI and the city of Dubuque at the Iowa Board of Regents’ meeting on June 6 in Iowa City.

Interest in sustainability indicators project
UI students worked with a group of community and municipal leaders in Dubuque to develop a set of 60 specific measurements intended to help the city benchmark and track the progress of its 11 sustainability initiatives. 

Medora Kealy, group member and recent UI graduate, and Cori Burbach provided an overview of the nine-month research project during a webinar presented by the Sustainable City Network on June 28, 2012. The Sustainable City Network is an Iowa company established in 2010 to provide municipal professionals with quality and timely information on sustainability products, services, and best practices. 

A total of 1,261 people from 49 states, plus the District of Columbia and the countries of Canada and Colombia, registered for the webinar—the most ever for a Sustainable City Network event. California (175), Iowa (109) and Wisconsin (74) were the top three states in terms of registrations, while Hawaii was the only state not represented. 

Kealy discussed her group’s final set of indicators, which they crafted carefully to ensure measurability, similarity to other cities’ initiatives for purposes of comparison, and correspondence to Dubuque's existing sustainability goals. 

“We recommend updating the report every other year. The report is a useful tool as long it’s updated and relevant,” Kealy says. “This report will help Dubuque advance its sustainability effort, and also will provide an important marketing tool and may help bring sustainability-minded businesses to Dubuque.” 

Burbach, the UI’s chief partner for the indicators project, says Dubuque is examining effective ways to communicate the project results to the public, with the ultimate goal of creating a user-friendly online version of the indicators. 

The future
This two-year partnership between the School of Urban and Regional Planning and the city of Dubuque is supported by the UI Office of the Provost and Office of the Vice President for Research. In the fall of 2012, a new set of second-year master’s students will embark upon collaborative research projects with the city of Dubuque in five new areas of study. 

The upcoming projects include: 

  • Identify a set of indicators called Dubuque County Smarter Planning
  • Accelerate sustainable transportation planning through the use of “smart” data
  • Determine real housing needs with special attention to residential and commercial development in the Washington Neighborhood
  • Develop successful neighborhood school strategies
  • Conduct a survey of best practices for general plans for development of port areas

View details about all five Dubuque Initiative projects scheduled for 2012-2013. 

As the next round of projects begins, Dubuque city leaders will spread the word about the results of the five 2011-12 reports. Burbach says the city intends to use this information to share Dubuque’s sustainability story with state and federal agencies, specifically when fulfilling reporting requirements and submitting grant reports.    

“Sustainability is such an evolving field that programs like this one at the University of Iowa is how we’re going to get things done,” Burbach says. “To have that new insight and the new things they’re learning in Master’s level programs right now is the most refreshing way to get the job done.”