Iowa’s Living Roadways: Community Visioning Program

(Marion, IA)- Trees Forever helps small communities in Iowa envision and design community-wide landscape improvements that enhance transportation corridors.

Category: Partnerships, Community Building
A key component of the Community Visioning Program is the involvement of a diverse cross-section of volunteers in each participating community. Since its inception in 1996, the program has assisted 113 small towns to create new visions for their communities and to encourage community interest in and support of environmental issues.
Trees Forever provides a facilitated planning process to selected communities. Iowa State University’s Landscape Architecture Extension coordinates professional design services including an on-site community design workshop and computer-aided visualization services. The Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) funds the program using Federal Highway Administration monies.
Trees Forever is a national non-profit based in Marion, Iowa, whose mission is “to plant and care for trees and the environment by empowering people, building community, and promoting stewardship.” Established in 1989, Trees Forever has developed or been involved with numerous innovative tree-planting programs in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, resulting in the planting of over 2.5 million trees and seedlings and the participation of nearly 150,000 volunteers.
Iowa is a state of small communities, the vast majority with populations under 10,000. Nearly half of the communities have fewer than 500 people. As a result, many of the localities do not have the resources to design sustainable roadside plantings or secure federal transportation enhancement funds. To help overcome this problem, a professor (Julia Badenhope) at Iowa State University Landscape Architecture Extension designed a program to assist small communities to plan, develop and implement enhancements to their transportation systems.
After a pilot period, the professor contacted the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) to find ways to expand and better deliver the program. IDOT had worked with Trees Forever and knew that it had field staff dispersed throughout the state that would be an excellent resource for the program. Together, the university, IDOT, and Trees Forever collaborated to form the Iowa’s Living Roadways Program.
The program has two components. Community Visioning offers planning and landscape design assistance from experienced facilitators, private sector landscape architects and college interns and Projects provides funding for implementation of projects that use native vegetation to enhance transportation corridors.
The application process
All Iowa communities with populations of 10,000 or fewer are eligible for the Visioning Program. In order to qualify, localities must submit an application, endorsed by a city government partner, which describes the community’s needs, names a steering committee, and documents the community’s ability to raise $1,000 toward project implementation. The steering committee must consist of at least eight people who represent the diversity of the locality, including at least one representative or staff member of the local government partner, members from local service organizations, educators and the local media. Communities are also encouraged to involve youth, the elderly, new residents and minority groups on their steering committees.
Applications are sent to eligible communities each summer and applications are due in October. Applications submitted to Trees Forever are evaluated by a partnership committee including representatives from Trees Forever, Iowa State University Landscape Architecture Extension, the Iowa Department of Transportation and private landscape architects.
Criteria for selection include community support and commitment, need, the extent of diversity represented on the steering committee, and the community’s ability to provide the $1,000 cash match for implementation. Communities that lack local planning resources are given priority.
Successful candidates are notified by the end of the year, and the Visioning process begins in the spring. Trees Forever staff is available to assist communities in developing their applications.
Each year approximately 25 communities apply and 10-12 are selected.
Visioning process
Trees Forever field coordinators facilitate the planning process, which consists of 10 meetings with the community steering committee over approximately 16 weeks. The first few meetings focus on a self-assessment and inventory of the strengths and weaknesses of the community. Discussions center on the relationships among community land use patterns, historic and cultural features, recreational resources, environmental assets, and the transportation system.
Iowa State University Landscape Architecture Extension contracts with landscape architects to provide professional design services to the committee. Together, the committee and the landscape architects develop possible projects for the community.
After several meetings, a community-wide design workshop, or charrette, is held to get a wider response to the proposed designs. The length of the charrette varies from community to community but is usually about a half-day and often piggybacks on another community event such as a festival. After the charrette, the committee goes back and incorporates the community’s input into the designs.
A few weeks after the charrette, the committee makes a public presentation of the ideas, using professionally prepared display boards that include conceptual drawings and images showing how the finished products will look. In the last few meetings of the process, strategies for implementation are then developed that allow the community to carry out their plans as resources become available.
Trees Forever administers the Projects’ component of the Iowa’s Living Roadways program that funds locally-led enhancement projects using native vegetation along transportation corridors. Communities do not need to be part of the Visioning program to apply for Projects grants, but many Visioning communities do take advantage of the opportunity. In addition, Trees Forever will assist communities to identify other sources of funding for their enhancement projects.
Since the program’s inception, Trees Forever has facilitated Visioning programs for 113 small towns. Seventy of those communities have successfully applied to the Projects program for implementation grants.
Examples of the types of issues addressed are relocation of highways or highway entrances, entryway beautification, recreational trail development and enhancement, and native vegetation planting in highway public rights-of-way.
1. When working in a partnership, strive to make the process truly collaborative. Partners should do what they do best and respect what the other partners do best
2. In order to make a visioning process successful, make sure the vision truly comes from the community and is not imposed on it from outside “experts.” Remember the process is not about the program partners, it’s about the individual communities. Trees Forever tailors its facilitated planning process to the individual needs of participating communities.
3. Pay attention to staff development needs within your organization so that you have the skills to meet the needs of the community.
Contact Information:
Pam Helfer, Field Coordinator
Trees Forever
770 7th Avenue
Marion, IA 52302
Phone: (800) 369-1269
Fax: (319) 373-0528
(c) 2005 Alliance for Community Trees