Wednesday, November 15, 2006

In October, 2004, University of Iowa President David Skorton announced that the 2005-2006 academic year would be the "Year of Public Engagement." During this year, the University community would be encouraged to intensify its efforts and sharpen its focus on engagement with the public and public issues at the local, state, national, and international levels. As part of the Year of Public Engagement, the Office of the President established a competitive Engagement Grants program in which 10 to 20 grants of $5,000-$10,000 each would be awarded. These grants would be given for demonstration projects in the spirit of the Year of Public Engagement, with preference being given to new projects that demonstrated innovative approaches to how the University can engage with the public, and those that show great promise for sustainability in the future. (For further details see the Year of Public Engagement page.)

That the Graduate Program in Urban and Regional Planning should submit a proposal seemed like a "no brainer" to Interim Chair Jim Throgmorton. To be engaged with the public is part of the ethos of urban planning profession; there simply is no way to practice planning effectively in the United States without engaging the public. Moreover, public engagement has long been part of the Urban Planning Program's standard curricular practice. For example, between 1991 and 2005, our second year students conducted approximately 70 projects for clients in eastern Iowa as part of the Field Problems course that all of our students are required to take. Moreover, approximately 145 graduates of the program currently work in Iowa, trying to improve the quality of our state's cities and regions.

With these thoughts in mind, Jim asked Assistant Professor Lucie Laurian to take the lead in crafting a proposal for the Program. The result was truly a collaborative effort involving faculty, staff, and students.

In late September, 2005, this collaborative effort resulted in a proposal entitled, "Planning for Better Regions: A Biennial Summit for Policy Makers, Planners and the Public." According to it, we would organize and conduct "regional summits" every two years in various Iowa city-regions focusing on the interaction of a range of local planning issues such as affordable housing, economic development, urban revitalization and suburban growth. All Planning faculty would be involved, and three quarter-time Research Assistants would help produce background material for the Summit. Participants at the Summit would include elected officials, state and local decision-makers, citizen groups and non-profits, interested citizens, academics, local educators and students. We hope the first Iowa Regional Summit would be held in Cedar Rapids in Fall 2006. Whether additional summits would in fact be conducted would depend on how well that summit went.

In October, 2005, after reviewing 80 applications, a University-wide committee of faculty, staff, students and community members recommended 15 proposals for approval by President Skorton. Our proposal was one of the most highly rated of the successful applications.

It will be a great learning experience for all of us. Stay tuned.