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Program Helps Small Towns Spruce Up

More Than 100 Iowa Towns Have Benefited from Support Efforts

Associated Press

The Gazette

May 6, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Associated Press and The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    DES MOINES (AP) — It may not be as glamorous as the huge, new community attractions popping up around Iowa, but there is a program that’s been working for years to help change the look of more than 100 small towns across the state.

    Under Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program, small towns get help beautifying their cities.

    The help can include things like adding splashy new entrance signs, tiny roadside parks, recreational trails and prairie and tree plantings along main roadways.

    ‘‘It has had a big impact on recreational opportunities, and safety, and pride of place,’’ said Julia Badenhope, an Iowa State University landscape and architecture professor who came up with the program about a decade ago.

    The program’s impact was recently recognized nationally. The Living Roadways Community Visioning Program won the American Planning Association’s 2006 Outstanding Planner Award for a Project, Program or Tool.

    Badenhope said she saw a need in small towns for professional designers, and asked the Iowa Department of Transportation and private landscape architecture firms to help out. Also pitching in are ISU landscape architecture students, and the Marion-based Trees Forever, a non-profit organization that plants and cares for trees.

    Twelve towns are chosen each year. They get free planning and design services from the program, which gets its funding from the Department of Transportation.

    The towns can apply for outside grants or raise private funds to build projects.

    Badenhope said many residents show up to volunteer manpower.

    The professional assistance allows local leaders to learn about the planning process and create an enhancement plan based on their community’s identity, Badenhope said.

    It also helps residents get involved and support longrange planning efforts, she said.

    ‘‘One of the most important things is to help them understand their community, what their assets are, and helping people work together toward shared goals,’’ she said.

    So far, 113 Iowa communities — each with fewer than 10,000 people — have benefited from the program. Of the 192 proposed projects in those towns, 163 have been completed. That’s an 85 percent completion rate, Badenhope said.

    Among the towns that have implemented projects is the northwestern Iowa city of Sheldon, which planted 285 trees and about 10 acres of wildflowers and prairie grass along the Highway 18 corridor about five years ago.

    ‘‘Basically, we’re dressing up the entries into the city,’’ said Kurt Tatsumi, the mayor of the town of about 5,000. ‘‘It’s going to take a little time to mature, but once it’s there I think it will make a huge difference.’’

    Denise Clark, a senior in ISU’s landscape architecture program, helped design projects for the central Iowa city of State Center, including plans to revamp the town’s rose garden.

    She said it was rewarding to work on a project that is the ‘‘center point of their town,’’ serving as a site for weddings and other community activities.

AP Community members make suggestions to Iowa State University student interns during a design workshop in Washington, Iowa, in 2005. Under the community visioning programs, small towns get help beautifying their cities, including adding splashy new entrance signs, tiny pocket parks, trails and prairie, wildflower and tree plantings along main roadways.

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