Christianson Brings Planning and Zoning Expertise to ISU Extension CED, Iowans

September 21, 2017, 9:28 am | Greg Wallace

Eric Christianson traveled far away from Iowa for his first job, but realized something didn’t quite fit.

In the north African country of Morocco, Christianson had fulfilling work helping small farmers get the most out of their land and teaching best practices for marketing through a Fulbright research grant. But he wanted more.

“I realized a big missing piece was in what I wanted to be studying – city planning,” he said. “Cities there were growing in an unplanned manner and it was eating up agricultural land that people actually need.”

Christianson returned to Iowa State and earned a master’s degree in agriculture and urban planning. Now, he’s putting it to good use as a government specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Community and Economic Development program.

Eric Christianson

“I’m excited to work with (ISU Extension and Outreach) now,” he said. “I really believe in and like the mission of extension, which is bringing knowledge from the university out to folks who can actually use it.”

In his new position, Christianson is working with towns big and small across Iowa to solve city finance, economic and planning and zoning issues, and also to make sure cities and personnel remain on the right track for growth.

“I like being in position to help smaller towns that can’t afford to have a planning staff,” he said. “I’ll go all around the state, physically travel to locations and take calls throughout the state. Iowa has a lot of different issues. Some cities are growing so fast they can’t handle it and others are just the opposite, shrinking and disappearing. It’s a big variety, and working with planning and zoning issues has been fun.”

Right now, Christianson says he’s trying to “get out as much as possible.” He is based in Cedar Rapids but has gone everywhere from Red Oak to Calhoun County to Mitchellville to nearby Tiffin.

“I want to get my name out there, and any chance I get to travel, I’ll take it,” he said.

Christianson said one of his main immediate goals is getting more city planning and zoning materials online, providing convenient access.

“When I took the position I expected to get a lot of difficult questions, and I’ve run into a little of that, but I’ve mostly run into small towns where there is one person charged to do everything, but really doesn’t know the basics,” he said. “We’re working on moving our resources online so people who know nothing about planning and zoning but are charged with it can access (the resources) more easily with language that is understandable.”

He also hopes to become more involved in the planning and implementation of projects across Iowa. For example, Iowa State design students and professors are working on a planning studio to enhance the community of Mitchellville. Christianson will work with students during their semester there, but also push the project forward after they move on.

“I want to stick around afterward,” he said. “Sometimes, the plan gets left on the shelf and isn’t used continuously. My goal is getting more involved, and I’ll still be around, come back later and be on call to answer questions.”

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