Purpose and Focus

To better address the problems and challenges faced by small towns in Iowa and the Midwest, the School of Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Iowa launched the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) in 2009. IISC’s purpose is to enhance the capacity of towns, cities, and counties in Iowa, as well as elsewhere in the Midwest, to better become sustainable communities. By sustainability, we employ the standard definition of sustainability as enabling current generations to meet their social, economic, and environmental needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. More specifically, sustainability entails efforts to protect and preserve the environment, while both encouraging economic prosperity and the equitable distribution of economic and social opportunity.

Increasingly, communities in Iowa and the Midwest face a crisis of sustainability. A number of major forces affect these towns and their sustainability:

  • declining employment opportunities in Midwestern manufacturing and agriculture
  • the decline of local food systems
  • the need for new renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal, solar, and biomass
  • the decline of the small family farm, which reduces the population that is served by small towns
  • expansion of industrial agriculture and the impacts it has on the environment, including water quality in Iowa and beyond
  • increasing effects of global climate change making communities more susceptible to extreme weather events such as floods
  • large-scale meatpacking operations which come to dominate local economies in ways that make small towns highly vulnerable to the decisions of one or two companies in their community
  • demographic change that challenges communities to learn to accommodate economic, cultural, language and other differences

IISC’s purpose is to apply the talent and knowledge of the students and faculty of the University of Iowa to develop plans and initiatives that will enable Iowa’s small towns and cities to enhance the sustainability of their communities. In doing so, IISC provides significant and ongoing outreach to Iowa’s communities, while transforming teaching and learning at the University of Iowa by engaging students in a student-faculty-community collaboration that is focused on some of the most important problems faced by communities in Iowa and the Midwest. At the same time, University of Iowa faculty will be able to use this opportunity to advance scholarship on sustainability in their various disciplines and fields. The end result will be to greatly enhance the University of Iowa’s reputation for advancing sustainability scholarship, teaching, and community outreach.