The University of Iowa

Annual Report: IISC Update

UI Urban Regional Planning Students in Mason City
The Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) enables faculty, staff, and students from across the University of Iowa campus to partner with urban and rural communities on projects that enhance the sustainability of Iowa's communities. These collaborative partnerships address community priorities and engage faculty and students in high-impact, real-world projects. IISC works to address Iowa's economic, environmental and socio-cultural challenges in ways that build a more sustainable future for the state, and more successful futures for our students.

IISC began new partnerships in 2016 with both the City of Mason City and the East Central Intergovernmental Association (ECIA), a quasi-governmental regional organization serving five counties in Eastern Iowa: Cedar, Clinton, Dubuque, Delaware, and Jackson. This unique collaboration offered many opportunities for IISC to partner with 10 small Iowa communities who might not otherwise have the capacity to partner on a full IISC partnership, which requires 10 or more projects per community. IISC completed 22 projects in collaboration with community leaders and University of Iowa students, faculty, and staff. 

These projects highlight the multidisciplinary nature of sustainability, involving UI students, faculty, and staff in all three aspects of the sustainability “triangle”: economic prosperity, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship.


Notable Projects From Community Collaborations

“Delmar History Project”

Storytelling project in Delmar, Iowa
In a collaborative effort between Urban & Regional Planning, Art Education, IDEAL, and Center for the Book, graduate students worked with 4th-6th graders from the Delwood Community School District in Delmar, Iowa to produce videos and books that tell the story of the community through interviews with longtime residents. The collaboration culminated in a public open house and a series of videos about Delmar. The project was featured on Iowa Public Radio. 

“Museums in the Digital Age”

Recommendations from anthropology students in Heidi Lung's "Museums in the Digital Age" class paved the way for a new community museum in Edgewood, Iowa. Museum representatives raised funds to implement the students' digital management tool and comprehensive communications plan. The museum celebrated their grand opening in June 2017. 

“Branding the City of Maquoketa”

Students from the Tippie College of Business Marketing Institute created an integrated marketing communication plan with new branding for the City of Maquoketa. The plan provides materials and strategies to help the City promote tourism. See the logo the students developed, which appeared on billboards and will soon be on all City of Maquoketa branding.

“Pocket Neighborhoods”

Pocket neighborhood project
Civil & Environmental Engineering students created the design and management of a pocket neighborhood for the East Central Intergovernmental Association (ECIA). Pocket neighborhoods are small, planned, residential communities featuring community-building amenities in common space, such as an outdoor grilling area, common garden, and edible landscaping. The design includes small single-family homes, amenities, sidewalks, on-site stormwater management, and more.  ECIA will use the design as a benchmark for working with communities in their region on the development of pocket neighborhoods that provide unique and affordable housing options that appeal to new families and residents.

“Cataloging Brownfield Sites”

Graduate students from the School of Urban & Regional Planning developed a process to inventory and prioritize brownfield sites on behalf of the ECIA. The organization believes the database will empower staff with essential information to potentially secure millions in leveraged assessment, clean-up, and planning money.

“GIS Flood Risk Modeling”

Students in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences course ‘GIS for Environmental Studies’ conducted a flooding risk assessment for the Cerro Gordo County Emergency Management Agency using HAZUS modeling software. The results help generate data-driven strategies for the local Multi-jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan update. In the wake of significant flooding in the County in 2008 and 2016, the analysis will help local experts and the broader community develop strategies and priorities to mitigate against future losses.

“Municipal Mobile App”

Mason City Mobile App
Students in the School of Art & Art History Graphic Design course designed a community-based mobile app for the City of Mason City. A community-focused mobile app will guide users to various attractions within Mason City, help cycling enthusiasts navigate the city’s bikeway system and trails, direct users to nearby restaurants and businesses, and much more. As a user-friendly form of communication, it will allow the City to notify residents about civic engagement opportunities and give residents a voice in identifying maintenance issues.

“Comprehensive Plan”

Graduate students from the School of Urban & Regional Planning updated Mason City’s Comprehensive Plan, with a thematic view towards environmental and social resiliency and a topical focus on aging in place.

“Sustainability Plan for Municipal Leaders”

Graduate students from the School of Urban & Regional Planning developed a sustainability plan for the City of Mason City. This project resulted in a citywide sustainability plan that will be used to guide decision makers and provide recommendations to implement and improve community sustainability efforts. Based on guidance from community partners, students developed a concise but broad-reaching plan intended to both educate and excite Mason City citizens about sustainability.

To learn more about the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, and how you can become a community partner, visit: