Sustainability and Vision in the Greater Des Moines Region, Part 2

Jean Danielson

Jean Danielson

The trick—to reference my blog post of November 13th—is not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of any task. As a friend once said to me years ago, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’

Collective visions are tough to come by, particularly in the face of competing needs, cultural and social commitments, economic infrastructures and layers of political policies. The facilitator of the meeting—a focus group on sustainability and the Des Moines region that was hosted by the Greater Des Moines Partnership—began with all things positive as the group members jumped in to the conversation, which flowed without pause.

What is good about the Des Moines region? We all had answers to that one—a regional trail system, hardworking and friendly people, educational opportunities, the State Fair, enough topography to be interesting to many sports and recreations and communities that seek to collaborate.

What is difficult? Agreeing on land use and approaching the question of green space. For example, how does establishing green space foster economic development and how does it inhibit growth? How does green space impact a community’s tax burden and hence their ability to provide infrastructure services to that community?

Don’t overlook, someone mentioned, that recreation is tied to economic development. When one thinks of green spaces, too often so-called ‘passive’ spaces are thought of—a park, a trail, a forest, a lake. Don’t forget that large and small locally-owned businesses are created around and because of these places, and this does not only happen one or two months out of the year, but during all seasons. Iowans enjoy water skiing and ice skating, jogging on trails in August and downhill tobogganing in January.

As the meeting continued, a local architect mentioned that ‘renewable’ makes sense if these ideas, these places, are planned out. A sustainable, renewable infrastructure that is impactful, holistic and high performing—this is the goal.

There were many discussion threads in this short period of time. At the end, I was left with this distillation: How does a community talk about—in the midst of its cares, worries, concerns, economic needs, political agendas and public policies—the ways in which its uniqueness fits into the larger aggregate of unique side-by-side communities known as the Des Moines region?

The focus groups provide an ongoing opportunity for this discussion as communities (read: people) seek to create the ‘Now’ and the ‘Future’ of this region. I am very glad I had an opportunity to sit in on and participate in discussions with the many different persons who want to see this happen.


– Jean Danielson is director of operations for Indigo Dawn. She is unlikely to be found at a NASCAR event unless Steve Buscemi is there.


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