Extension News

Experts Explore How to Measure Sustainability in Iowa


PERRY, Iowa – Thirty-eight experts from academic, government and private sectors gathered at the Center for Town/Craft in Perry March 30–31 to explore the possibility of building a sustainability index for the state of Iowa.

Charlotte Kahn, senior project manager for the Boston Indicators Project, an annual assessment of the progress of Boston along a series of critical indicators, opened the session. Kahn explained how the Boston area created a group 20 years ago to assess the metropolitan area across 10 sectors, including education, civic engagement, transportation, health, technology, economics, housing, the environment, cultural life and the arts, and public safety. Each year the Boston Indicators Project releases findings of progress, identifies gaps and makes recommendations to further a commonly identified agenda.

Other panels brought the group information about sustainability as a public safety issue, how Iowa communities incorporate sustainability into current planning efforts, and justice and sustainability, as well as sustainability and cultural life. On the second day the participants used facilitated breakout sessions to hone thinking on what metrics to develop and where supporting data might be available.

Some of the more important findings were the number of Iowa successes across the state in various areas. The following are a few examples of stellar Iowa performances in environmental, economic, social, cultural and recreational arenas.

  • Environmentally, Iowa is the second largest wind energy producing state.
  • Economically, according to the Dec. 16, 2009 WSJ MarketWatch, the city of Des Moines is the number one city in the country for favorable business climate.
  • Socially, in the April 7 New York Times, writer David Brooks proclaimed Dubuque and Iowa City two of five most likely low-cost hubs to attract new residents as America reaches new heights in an era of social entrepreneurship.
  • Culturally, the Two Rivers Art Festival consistently ranks in the top five art festivals in the country.
  • Recreationally, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is the oldest, largest and longest bicycle-touring event in the world.

Participants catalogued what they perceived as typical Iowa values and priorities that drive this performance excellence. Among them are clean air and water, acceptance of diversity, genuine regard for civility and connectedness among members of Iowa towns and rural areas. Also ranking near the top were statements about the accessibility of most things related to daily living, the simplicity of lifestyle, and the ease with which Iowans connect urban and rural cultures. Participants agreed that developing local foods systems is one key to a sustainable Iowa future, along with encouragement of cultural education to increase a diverse population. Education needs to be a top priority across the state, to ensure Iowans are ready for the green jobs related to sustainability.

Conveners hope to continue the discussion in the public realm to build grassroots interest and momentum toward an index measuring how well Iowans are doing against a robust set of measures of sustainable life for Iowa.


Contacts :
Mickey Carlson, Center for Town/Craft, (515) 294-9505, michaelc@iastate.edu.