Monday, September 9, 2013

The UI’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) and the City of Muscatine are launching a partnership focusing on key projects for the city’s long-term sustainability.

UI students in art, business, engineering, public health, rhetoric, and urban planning will work under the direction of UI faculty and Muscatine business and community leaders. The collaborative projects will address economic, health, cultural, social, and environmental priorities in Muscatine.

As the City of Muscatine completes a new comprehensive plan, it will work alongside the IISC to develop projects that will contribute to ongoing positive changes in the city. The Muscatine partnership is one of three community initiatives IISC initiated for the 2013-14 academic year after a thorough selection process examining cross-sector collaborative efforts toward sustainability and other community-wide improvements.

Benefits for the Muscatine community

Taking a holistic view of community, the IISC works not only with city officials but also with leaders from nonprofits, businesses, and organizations that serve the citizens of Muscatine.

“The time is right for Muscatine to be a partner with IISC,” says Sarah Lande, who is active in international relations between Iowa and China. “We are a Blue Zone Community. We just finished our Comprehensive Plan. IISC is a great opportunity to combine the vast resources of the University of Iowa with eager and energized citizens of Muscatine.”

Rich Dwyer is co-chair of the Muscatine Community Improvement Action Team, a group of community members working with the city and the IISC to implement positive changes in Muscatine. “The IISC/Muscatine partnership is a great opportunity to have outside, fresh eyes look at Muscatine and help identify ways to make Muscatine an even greater place to work and raise a family,” says Dwyer. “Diverse projects that will stimulate cooperation between city, community, and businesses will build a great learning experience for all involved.”

Students gain first-hand experience

In addition to gaining hands-on professional development, students earn course credit for their work on IISC partnership projects. At least six academic programs will participate in nine to twelve projects in Muscatine, including work on riverfront redevelopment, transportation, workforce and population growth assessments, childhood obesity, and sustainable engineering. New projects will emerge as the partnership progresses.

“We’ve worked with faculty and staff across the UI campus to develop projects through which students can learn by doing,” says Nick Benson, program coordinator for the IISC. “Through this type of service learning, students and faculty take their studies beyond the university and really make a difference in an Iowa community.”

Students’ work will range from course-directed projects to graduate-level research. University of Iowa Associate Provost for Outreach and Engagement Linda Snetselaar says, "One of the greatest contributions that we can give to our University of Iowa students is an education that allows them to experience a role in the Iowa workplace. The IISC has fostered this type of experience at a phenomenal level."

UI programs assisting with the Muscatine partnership include ArtsShare, the Tippie College of Business’ Marketing Institute, the College of Engineering, the Graduate College’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning (IDEAL), and the College of Public Health. The IISC is the outreach branch of the School of Urban and Regional Planning.

Project preview

The Mississippi riverfront redevelopment project , one of the dozen or so projects in the partnership, will focus on increasing the city’s ability to access and utilize riverfront property.

The Mississippi River is one of Muscatine’s greatest assets, but currently the land along the river is underutilized. To guide strategic growth along the riverfront, students will survey best practices of similar communities’ riverfront redevelopment efforts and solicit community input to identify the best uses for the land, ultimately producing a redevelopment plan for the riverfront.

Potential pieces of the redevelopment plan could include opening the riverfront to vendors, public art, a new outdoor entertainment venue, relocation of the farmers market, and promoting the riverfront as a recreational amenity. The redevelopment plan will set forth action steps for the community to take to enhance the riverfront, while paying particular attention to the history of Muscatine as a community.

Additional IISC partnerships in Iowa

In the coming weeks, the IISC will launch additional Iowa community initiatives in Cedar Rapids and Washington. "IISC is a big deal for the University and the state of Iowa. With more than 20 projects in three Iowa cities engaging 150 or more students, the University of Iowa is making it very clear that it cares deeply about the welfare of our state and its communities and it intends to have a major positive impact on our mutual welfare," says Charles Connerly, director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning and founder and director of the IISC.