Main Street pocket park... roadside prairie plantings... town entrance signs... even a lighthouse... All along Iowa's roadways, visible accomplishments like these are testimonials to the success of a one-of-a-kind program that has helped 113 of Iowa's rural communities.
Now, the Iowa's Living Roadways Community Visioning Program is being recognized nationally. The program is receiving the American Planning Association's 2006 Outstanding Planning Award for a Project, Program or Tool at the association's national convention in San Antonio.
Iowa State University landscape architecture faculty developed the program in 1996. ISU manages it in partnership with Trees Forever, a nonprofit environmental organization based in Marion. The Iowa Department of Transportation funds the program.
The Community Visioning Program provides planning and landscape design assistance to communities with populations of less than 10,000. It helps citizens and officials in rural communities identify issues, set goals, envision designs, develop conceptual plans, write grants and raise private funds. The program brings together teams of ISU design students, professional landscape architects and town residents in a participatory planning process.
And it has a high success rate: Nearly 90 percent of the communities have implemented at least one project, and about 70 percent have ongoing, phased projects under way. Of the 192 projects proposed in the 113 towns, 163 - 85 percent - have been completed.
Storm Lake was a 1997-98 participant, and created a plan to develop a community gateway that would attract visitors from the U.S. 71 bypass. The plan became a reality in 2000 with the construction of the Gateway lighthouse and landscaping to represent a lake and shoreline.
Cherokee was a 2000-2001 participant, and beautified the Highway 59 corridor by planting native grasses, plants and trees along the roadside, and installing a new entrance sign.
The visioning program was created in the mid-1990s by Julia Badenhope, associate professor of landscape architecture, who was extension landscape architect at the time. In her travels through rural Iowa, she saw that small towns lacked the services of professional designers. She developed a pilot program and worked with three communities, honing in on the concept that would become community visioning. In 1996, she approached the iowa DOT to form a public-private partnership with ISU and private planning and landscape architecture firms. From there, Iowa DOT facilitated collaboration with Trees Forever, which had many community contacts and a shared interest in sustainable community planning and design.
Each year, 12 communities are selected to participate in the Community Visioning Program.
"Having ideas and love of the town validated by an outsider is important to people who work hard to make small communities great places to live," Badenhope said. "The big idea here is that the cumulative effect of many small actions adds up to a much better quality of life in the countryside of Iowa."