Sep 22, 2016 03:27PM
Going for green: Muscatine to receive EPA assistance for sustainable design
By Ann Ring
The Environmental Protection Agency announced this summer that Muscatine, Iowa, is one of six communities selected to receive technical assistance with sustainable design strategies under its Greening America's Communities (GAC) program for 2016.
Muscatine has become a Certified Blue Zone Community, part of a national initiative that brings the world's best practices in implementing permanent environmental, social and policy changes to cities and states to help people transition into healthier behaviors that can lead to longer, happier lives. Even though Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad launched a state-wide initiative in 2011, Muscatine is only one of 15 cities in Iowa to be certified thus far.
During the Blue Zone certification process, Muscatine adopted a Complete Streets Policy, one of the "key action items" in becoming certified, says Muscatine city administrator Gregg Mandsager. Its adoption means the city has created a written transportation policy that enables its streets to be designed and built to serve all of the citizens, regardless of age, physical ability or mode of transportation, according to smartgrowthamerica.org.
When the National Complete Streets Coalition reviewed and scored policies, Muscatine was named one of the 10 best in the country by Smart Growth America, an organization that advocates for more walkable and livable neighborhoods.
Complete Streets adequately provides for the safe travel of bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders and motorists by matching the needs of travelers to the uses surrounding a street. Every "complete street" looks different with a variety of components based on context, topography, road function, the speed of traffic, pedestrian and bicycle demand and more, such as sidewalks, paved shoulders, bike lanes, accessible curb ramps, pedestrian medians and more.
To an outsider, the changes might not seem like much, but for years, Muscatine had a certain reputation — just driving around, you knew a grain processing plant loomed nearby because of its odor and haze. It provided jobs for the small community of 22,000, so most people remained quiet. But a group of Muscatine's citizens eventually took their frustration to the state capital in Des Moines to fight for quality air. Since then, the plant has installed new pollution control equipment as part of a 2014 court-approved consent decree with the Iowa Attorney General's office.
So, when the Environmental Protection Agency announced this past June that Muscatine was one of six communities across the country selected to receive technical assistance with sustainable design strategies under its Greening America's Communities program for 2016, it was a big deal.
Representatives from the EPA were in town for meetings related to air quality, Mandsager says, "and at one of the meetings, our director of public works learned about some of the newer community-focused programs, including technical assistance related to green, complete streets."
Representatives with the EPA suggested the Greening America's Community program as the next logical step, so the city applied and will receive technical assistance on adding green infrastructure to future projects, specifically the Grandview Corridor project, Mandsager says.
In the coming months, the EPA will fund a team of designers to visit Muscatine to create plans that will support a green infrastructure and other environmentally friendly designs such as innovative ways to deal with storm water runoff and the addition of more walkable, bikeable and vibrant neighborhoods to the Grandview Avenue Corridor, as well as an attractive gateway into Muscatine through landscaping and other visual enhancements.
"In 2013, our Complete Streets policy formalized the process of safe, convenient, access for all users, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation," Mandsager says, "so, we consider all of these when we're building new or reconstruction projects."
Mandsager says not only is Muscatine growing, but an engaged audience has helped spur Muscatine's changes. The Blue Zone project was the catalyst — it engaged the public. A combination of economic development, the city council, capital improvements, some key businesses and its citizens all helped.
"It's easier to make decisions when you have the public's support," Mandsager says.
Ann Ring is a frequent Radish contributor.
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