Inside Iowa State
January 22, 1999
Partnership helps Iowa communities spruce up
by Steve Sullivan
The citizens of Marengo knew they wanted to snazz up their community, but had little idea how to actually make it happen.
Like so many Iowa communities, Marengo eventually turned to Iowa's Living Roadways, a community visioning program that its creator Julia Badenhope aptly describes as "a grassroots partnership."
Iowa's Living Roadways grew out of the barriers faced by communities in need of landscape architecture expertise, said Badenhope, assistant professor of landscape architecture and extension landscape architect.
Badenhope took her concerns and an idea for a partnership to officials at the Iowa Department of Transpor-tation and in 1996, Iowa's Living Roadways was born.
The community visioning program brings together the expertise and funding resources of the College of Design, landscape architecture department, ISU Extension, IDOT's Living Roadways Trust Fund and a non-profit environmental advocacy organization called Trees Forever.
Community visioning is a planning process that encourages creative, strategic thinking about landscape improvements. The aim is to help local leaders direct the future of the community and unite local residents and volunteer groups around common goals.
More than 30 Iowa communities have sought assistance from Iowa Living Roadways since it was created, and more than 80 percent of the communities have begun to imple-ment at least one of the proposed projects.
Marengo is an eastern Iowa community near the Iowa River. Two highways run by it. Among the community improvement ideas Marengo residents had were improving the entrances into town from the nearby highways, fixing up the city park and historical architecture, and connecting the town to the nearby river.
The visioning process involved field specialists from extension and Trees Forever (trained by Badenhope), a professional landscape architect and Marengo volunteers.
"These projects are always driven by volunteers, because they are the people who want to do something for their community," Badenhope said. "In Marengo, they went out and mapped and inventoried their resources. They looked at the physical landscape and mapped special features, like the land along the river, how the city fit into the landscape and how certain buildings and annual events were important to the community."
After a one-day immersion in community design at Marengo, the Iowa Living Roadways design team brought their materials to campus. At the College of Design, Badenhope and her staff worked with a professional landscape architect and landscape architect students to refine the ideas. Computer-generated presentation panels were shown to the people in Marengo.
"The designer and the students create the design, but the process is greatly enriched by being on-site and working directly with the members of the community," Badenhope said.
There is excitement in Badenhope's voice when she talks about the process that drives Iowa Living Roadways.
"It's a great happening -- you could say 'groovy man,' because it is. This energy develops," she said. "You're working with real people -- the guy who owns the corner pharmacy and worries about strip development along the highway, the local newspaper editor who covers five area communities, the members of the local historical society who see a legacy forgotten and want to preserve and integrate it into current life."
One key result in Marengo was a recommendation for a trail along an Iowa River levee to visually connect the town to the river.
"They were thinking of tourism and getting closer to the river, but hadn't envisioned this physical solution," said Badenhope, who served as designer on the Marengo project. "They are pursuing it and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is excited about it. And the idea is getting even bigger, with other Iowa communities along the Iowa River looking at doing something with their levees, and the Iowa River Resource and Conservation Development Group looking at a regional trail along the river."
The community visioning program has important implications for Iowa's environmental heritage, Badenhope said. Surveys of community roadsides and open spaces often reveal patches of once-plentiful native vegetation, creating excitement that influences the community design process. In Marengo, a rare sedge and other wet-land species were found in Lion's Park, just inside the levee.
The program places great emphasis on new planting that is native to Iowa, requiring that at least half the trees and shrubs planted be indigenous.
Badenhope traces her love of the land to her rural Michigan childhood, where she kept busy creating gardens and taking on projects encouraged by a creativity-minded mother.
Her background is varied, though clearly tied to the environment. She won awards for the design of two dairy farms in Tennessee while working as a conservation planning intern with the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District. She has worked for two years as a primary researcher on Iowa's Wetlands and Riparian Area Conservation Plan, which is about to be published by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
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