Friday, October 19, 2018

Each year, the Iowa Chapter of the American Planning Association asks its members to nominate plans, projects, and individuals deserving recognition by the professional organization. Award nominees can be recognized in nineteen categories ranging from public outreach to distinguished leadership. Based on an independent review by a jury of professional planners from the Wisconsin Chapter of the APA, a project completed by four University of Iowa planning students has been selected for the 2018 Exemplary Student Project award. 

Under the auspices of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, students worked in partnership with the City of Sioux City; Downtown Partners, Sioux City; and the Siouxland Interstate Metropolitan Planning Council on "The Downtown Greenspace Plan". The students included Varsha Borde, Ben Curtis, Katie Gandhi and Parker Just. They prepared a comprehensive analysis and set of recommendations for strategically increasing greenspace in the city's downtown. The students began with a downtown area that was covered either by buildings or parking lots with a high degree of impervious surface that, therefore, had deleterious impacts on the area’s microclimate, hydrology, aesthetics, and overall attractiveness to downtown workers, residents, and visitors.

The student team developed a 20 year plan for greenspace installation that would increase total greenspace downtown from eight to nearly 58 acres. The "plan proposes strategies to increase social well-being for downtown employees, residents, and visitors by improving the livability and walkability of downtown through the establishment of a dense network of pocket parks, green streetscapes, and greenspace retrofits. Additional greenspace will support the economic health of downtown by creating aesthetically pleasing destinations linking the district’s existing attractions. Increasing downtown greenspace will provide ecosystem services and improve the resiliency of downtown Sioux City by improving soil quality and plant health, increasing natural means of handling stormwater runoff, and mitigating heat island effects." The full plan may be viewed here.

If the goal is realized and the students’ recommended locations are utilized for green space, the average distance for downtown pedestrians to walk to a green space will be reduced from 1.88 blocks to one-half block.

With a bold plan grounded in sound research, the students presented the green space plan to the City of Sioux City. This gave the city an opportunity try to realize the plan’s objectives by securing funding. The city shared the plan with a donor and supporter of Sioux City quality of life initiatives, Regina Roth, who committed $500,000 to the development and implementation of a landscape plan for a park across the street from the city’s new children’s museum, a site identified in the students’ plan. The half-acre area, Pearl Street Park, came to fruition and was dedicated in March of 2018.

Pictured are student team members Parker Just and Varsha Borde, with Iowa APA President (and URP alum), Dylan Mullenix presenting the award.