UI School of Urban and Regional Planning looks to make Dubuque more sustainable

Dubuque, IA. – photo by Jenza, Flickr

Students will assist city on five yearlong green projects

University of Iowa graduate students will partner with the city of Dubuque on nine sustainability projects in the next two years, according to a UI release.

Their ambitious list of projects includes researching and mapping renewable energy sources that will help keep the city’s lights on when a power plant closes in 2015, and working with the four colleges and other major institutions in the area to link them with local food producers.

The students’ efforts are part of the UI School of Urban and Regional Planning’s community-based outreach program, the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC), which was launched in 2009. Thirty-five second-year master’s degree students are currently enrolled in the field problems in planning course, which in the past two years has developed sustainability plans in seven Iowa towns.

Starting this fall, they will focus their efforts on one city. The UI will assist Dubuque community leaders on the first five yearlong projects, which are all related to the city’s Sustainable Dubuque Initiative, started in 2006. The students are scheduled to complete four additional projects during the 2012-13 year. The UI Office of the Provost and Office of the Vice President for Research have committed $40,690 per year to support the project.

“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 improvement,” said Chuck Connerly, director of the UI School of Urban and Regional Planning. “This is a nice city to be identified with, and our students will feel like they’re part of something important. This is an outstanding educational enterprise.”


UI faculty met with Dubuque leaders last month to finalize the first five projects. Five groups of seven students will work with local project partners on the following projects: indicators and indicator measurements for the city’s 11 sustainability principles, renewable energy asset mapping, portrait of poverty in Dubuque, local foods and local institutions, and the design of a Green and Healthy Homes program.

“Part of the excitement in partnering with the university and its students is that there is so much going on in Dubuque,” said Cori Burbach, Sustainable Community Coordinator for the City of Dubuque. “We have a small sustainability office that is working with partners in the community to accomplish these projects. We have such community buy-in and there is so much opportunity right now.

“Having students conduct research that we would otherwise have to hire consultants to do or not have time to do ourselves is an excellent development opportunity for us and learning opportunity for them.”


Instructors of the course are Connerly and Paul Hanley, UI associate professor of urban and regional planning.

“Dubuque has professional planners and it also has a community foundation, so it will benefit our students to see how planning is integrated within a city instead of being pretty much on their own,” Hanley said. “It will be more of a hands-on interaction with practicing planners and a non-profit organization.

“Dubuque (population 57,637 in 2010) is the appropriate size to host five independent projects. It has an infrastructure for sustainability up and running. They have made a commitment and are not starting from scratch.”

Dubuque has already taken several steps toward sustainability. In November IEF profiled it for its several accomplishments, which include becoming the first city in Iowa to add an office and coordinator for sustainability, setting targets to reduce greenhouse gases, getting eleven schools certified for a “green vision,” installing low-energy traffic and street lights, and offering curbside food scrap recycling.

“I am excited by this opportunity to work with the University of Iowa to see what we need to do to take our sustainability effort to the next level,” said Eric Dregne, vice president of programs for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. “It’s one thing to make a plan and take our sustainability effort into the community, but it’s another thing to have the support, research and data to make the work we’re doing real for the citizens of Dubuque.”

UI graduate students will be assisted by undergraduate interns from Dubuque’s academic institutions: Clarke University, Loras College, the University of Dubuque and Northeast Iowa Community College.

“I do a lot of work in the community speaking to student groups, and I am asked how you get into the sustainability field,” Burbach said. “This opens a door to look at urban planning as the next step, and Iowa has a very strong program.”

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