The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

UI partnering with Muscatine for community improvement projects

Built on more than brick and mortar, communities depend on innovative local leaders and passionate residents to create progressive change and a unique identity.

For nearly four years, the University of Iowa’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, part of the School of Urban and Regional Planning, has allowed local students and faculty to gain hands-on experience with sustainable community outreach and improvement programs in a number of cities across the state, including Dubuque, Burlington, and Decorah.

A one-year connection between the UI and the city of Muscatine, established Jan. 15, may translate into several notable civic projects in the coming years, including a new convention center, dog park, and citywide network of sidewalks and trails. The program incorporates upperclassmen, graduate students, and faculty studying an array of topics, including public health and policy, engineering, business, planning, and art.

“I think one of the reasons Muscatine is such an attractive partner is that it is a really collaborative community,” said Nick Benson, program coordinator of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities. “Right away, they had gathered business leaders, city leaders, and members of the development community with this partnership. Sustainability crosses a lot of political lines, and you really have to work with nonprofits and the business community.”

Aside from students’ transportation costs to Muscatine with the partnership, the UI’s services will be free. Transportation costs will total about $2,000 for up to 10 projects. The Muscatine Community Improvement Action Team will raise money to cover the expenses. Planning remains in the preliminary stages, and final costs of the partnership have yet to be determined.

Under the partnership, UI students and their corresponding faculty will on average work for a semester or two on each project. At the end of the study, students will produce a report or hold a community event to present their findings.

Benson said the suggestions that are concluded will be presented along with an update on the standing of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities at a Feb. 25 meeting with UI President Sally Mason and her cabinet.

Currently, two Blue Zones-related projects with the UI’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Dietetic Internship Program are underway. The next six communities chosen as designated Blue Zones will be announced Jan. 30. Muscatine is one of 10 finalists for the Wellmark Insurance Group project that aims to educate communities on healthy living and exercise-related initiatives.

Rich Dwyer, the Kent Corp. senior vice president for corporate affairs, spoke to representatives from the Muscatine Community Improvement Action Team Jan. 22 about the potential the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities can bring to the city of nearly 23,000. In recent years, the city has struggled at the hands of the economic downturn left by the 2008 recession.

“There are so many diverse businesses here in town that make us unique,” Dwyer said.” We’re always trying to look for how do we draw top quality talent here, but just like the economy has in other places, it has hit Muscatine. We need to find out how we keep the vibrancy strong. We’re trying to look at how we can draw top-quality talent here.”

Dwyer said the partnership with the UI will help centralize the community-wide progress into one network of leadership.

“There are a lot of great things happening in these small groups, but what can we do to combine them and improve community pride? How do we get more involvement? How do we pursue community pride?” he said.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, and the Muscatine partnership in particular, not only acts as an additional outreach program, it also calls upon the importance of the university’s statewide reach.

“I think that just makes the citizens across Iowa more aware of our impact across the state,” he said. “Border to border, river to river, we have a presence in all 99 counties. It’s about asking how can we provide our services to Iowans who don’t just live in Johnson County.”

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