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Smart Growth Technical Assistance in Iowa

Map of the state of Iowa
View a larger map of the Smart Growth Assistance in Iowa (PDF) (1 pg, 164K,About PDF)

This fact sheet describes the partnership between EPA and FEMA and the five Iowa technical assistance projects(PDF) (1 pg, 286K, About PDF).


In 2009, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with state and local partners to help six Iowa communities recover and rebuild from the floods and tornadoes of 2008. This partnership produced tailored smart growth strategies for each community to use in its recovery efforts to improve quality of life, stimulate economic opportunity, and become more resilient to future floods. The six communities are:

As a result of this work, EPA and FEMA entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to continue collaboration on long-term community recovery, hazard mitigation and community resiliency efforts, and adaptation to the effects of climate change.

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Smart Growth and Community Resilience

Smart growth strategies can help communities become more resilient to flooding, and sharing the lessons of rebuilding can offer models to help other communities to prepare for or recover from natural disasters. Smart growth strategies used in post-disaster recovery include land use policies and investments that support both short-term redevelopment and long-term resiliency. When faced with rising water levels and floods due to intense rain events, communities can recover and grow more resiliently when they make room for water and grow well in appropriate places by mixing uses, using compact building design, and providing choices in where to live and how to get around. Following the devastation and disruption of floods and tornadoes, six Iowa communities seized the chance to implement smart growth approaches and recover in more resilient and sustainable ways.

EPA and FEMA began to collaborate approximately six months after initial recovery work had begun in Iowa. By this time, each community had begun acquiring its most flood-impacted properties. Property buyouts are done with a variety of funding sources—including FEMA, HUD, and local funds—and are intended to help the communities mitigate against future damage. The buyout process and other flood mitigation strategies helped to identify high-risk areas and gave the community a common understanding of where not to grow so as to make room for future floods. The smart growth assistance helped the six communities to establish visions for directing future growth, adjust existing codes and ordinances, and direct public investments toward less risky areas that could accommodate current and future growth. The goal was to help these communities create safer, more convenient neighborhoods; increase options for their residents in how to get around and where to live; and increase development opportunities in less flood-prone areas. In addition, several communities received assistance with green infrastructure strategies that would help deal with typical stormwater runoff.

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Agency Collaboration

State agencies in Iowa contributed significantly in all six projects. The Rebuild Iowa Office (RIO), in particular, provided critical coordination assistance and knowledge of state policies that influence long-term community recovery. RIO wrote a proposal to integrate smart growth practices into a standard state and community approach to rebuilding and resiliency. These "Iowa smart planning principles" (PDF) (9 pp, 238K, About PDF) were adopted in 2010 by the state legislature. Other participating agencies included the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

In Waverly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Development office in Iowa joined the team. USDA Rural Development invests significantly in communities across rural America and is a major contributor to long-term recovery efforts in rural communities hit by disasters. Because of its population size (less than 10,000 people), Waverly is eligible for most of USDA's Rural Development programs.

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Project Descriptions

Cedar Falls
Site visit: September 30-October 1, 2009
Cedar Falls requested assistance in expanding housing choices in the neighborhoods most appropriate for new growth and infill development. The city also wanted help with implementing green infrastructure approaches in flood-prone areas. As a result of the 2008 floods, many homes in the floodplain are being bought out and restored to green space. The city wants to ensure that the former residents of these homes can stay in Cedar Falls by creating more housing choices in other parts of the city. In the floodplain, Cedar Falls wants to expand recreational opportunities and adopt site-specific practices for managing stormwater.

EPA project manager: Danielle Arigoni (arigoni.danielle@epa.gov, 202-566-2859)

Cedar Rapids
Site visit: September 9-10, 2009
Cedar Rapids requested assistance in identifying existing or potential barriers to more sustainable development in current development policies and codes. EPA, FEMA, RIO, IDED, and national experts on zoning codes and development regulations partnered to host meetings with local stakeholders to review public policies for development. As a result of the workshop, the team provided ideas and resources for following policy areas: existing codes, smart growth strategies, infill strategies, and green infrastructure practices. The final report summarizes these findings and offers resources for any community seeking to assess how major land use policies could be changed to create incentives for infill development and sustainable growth.

EPA project manager: Kevin Nelson (nelson.kevin@epa.gov, 202-566-2835)

Report: Embracing the River: Smart Growth Strategies for Assisting in Cedar Rapids' Recovery (PDF) (108 pp, 4.1 MB, About PDF)

Site visit: November 4-5, 2009
Coralville requested assistance with creating a vision and ensuring that codes and ordinances can help accommodate future growth through infill redevelopment. The area identified for redevelopment is a 30-block area adjacent to transit lines that go to Iowa City and the University of Iowa. In addition, the city asked for help in identifying green infrastructure practices that can help manage stormwater runoff.

EPA project manager: Abby Hall (hall.abby@epa.gov, 202-566-2086)

Iowa City
Site visit: November 11-13, 2009
Iowa City asked for assistance in redeveloping the Riverfront Crossings District. The District is an ideal location for higher intensity development and public open space, taking advantage of its central location and transit access. Flooding occurred in and around this area of the city, and Iowa City hoped to relocate some current development to less flood-prone areas and to use those sites as part of a flood mitigation strategy. The EPA-FEMA team helped the city identify strategies for accommodating future growth in this District and for increasing green infrastructure and open space areas that could help mitigate future flood events.

Following this technical assistance project, Iowa City was selected as a Partnership for Sustainable Communities Brownfields Pilot Project. The Brownfields Pilot Project assisted the city in developing more detailed development plans for the Riverfront Crossings District. Find more information about that project at the Partnership for Sustainable Communities Brownfields Pilot Projects.

EPA project manager: Stephanie Bertaina (bertaina.stephanie@epa.gov, 202-566-0157)

New Hartford
Site visit: July 16-17, 2009
New Hartford requested help with stormwater management and prevention of future flooding. During moderate and heavy rain events, much of the community is covered with pooling water. Green infrastructure techniques can be part of the solution for managing stormwater during rain events. EPA helped to organize a workshop outlining green infrastructure strategies New Hartford could adopt to address its stormwater and flooding challenges.

EPA project manager: Abby Hall (hall.abby@epa.gov, 202-566-2086)

Site visit: May 26-27, 2009
The city of Waverly asked for assistance in developing policy options and project design ideas for green infrastructure strategies and housing and infill policies that could inform the city's revision of its comprehensive plan in the wake of flooding that took place in 2008. EPA, FEMA, USDA Rural Development, RIO, IDED, Iowa Northland Region Council of Governments, city staff, and national experts on community design and town planning convened a Smart Planning Workshop to solicit community feedback on initial policy and design ideas. As a result of the workshop, the team developed policy options for green infrastructure strategies and housing and infill policies that could be incorporated into the city's comprehensive plan and development regulations. The team also produced project designs that illustrate what these approaches could look like if the city implemented them in various neighborhoods throughout the city.

EPA project manager: Stephanie Bertaina (bertaina.stephanie@epa.gov, 202-566-0157)

Report: Waverly, Iowa, Smart Planning Workshop: Policy Options and Project Designs (PDF) (49 pp, 9.4MB, About PDF)

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