Friday, October 14, 2022

The University of Iowa and Clinton have partnered in a program aimed at improving the city through myriad projects in public art, storm-water management and local history.

It's part of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities. Founded in 2009, the IISC works with small- and medium-sized Iowa communities every year to advance sustainability statewide. Clinton is the IISC's 17th partner. 

Travis Kraus, associate professor at Iowa's School of Planning & Public Affairs, has directed the IISC since 2016. He said the program quickly spread across campus after realizing how many ways the IISC could serve communities. 

"We've worked with 23 different departments over our 12-year history," Kraus said. "We start with looking at needs and opportunities in the communities, and then my job is to try and find the people on campus — through coursework, capstone projects or even just hiring students — that can work on these projects." 

Kraus said they've completed projects for Clinton in the past through another partnership with the Eastern Central Intergovernmental Association (ECIA), a regional planning agency that serves Clinton County. 

"(Clinton) kept calling me every year saying, 'We have more ideas for you,'" he said. "This year, we finally thought to bring the whole partnership to Clinton. Now, we're up to 20 — and could possibly be more — projects." 

The IISC and Clinton officials hosted a public kickoff event to celebrate the 2022-23 partnership last Friday at Clinton's Candlelight Inn. It followed the reveal of a mural on the exterior wall of Keeping You Sewing, a sewing shop that offers instructional classes in downtown Clinton. 

At the event, university faculty and students got a chance to visit with the community as they begin to work on their respective projects.

"These students are the future. They're the great minds of Iowa, our generation and our country," Clinton Mayor Scott Maddasion said. "It excites me to see the different perspectives and new ideas that help us grow and thrive into the future. We want to be the best Clinton that we possibly can be, and I think with enlisting these great minds we're going to get to that point from here and beyond." 

One group's project is the development of Clinton's "Liberty Square," a vacant, grassy plat of land between Liberty and Camanche avenues.

Sepehr Yadollahi is one of the students working on the Liberty Square development project, pursuing his master's degree in urban and regional development.

After he and his peers made a site visit, Yadollahi said the area gives ample opportunity for development. 

"The area is giving us a lot of options for how we can develop it, or how the people want us to develop it," he said. "It's going to be a very good, hands-on project, and I really like this program." 

Aside from promoting sustainability, Kraus, the program director, said the IISC allows Iowa students to "jump-start" their careers.

"Having this experience just prepares them for the work they'll do after they graduate," he said. "Many are just months from graduating, so they'll have that competitive advantage when they seek out jobs. Because this is really professional-level work." 

Kraus also hopes this career pipeline stays in-state. 

"The other thing we want students to understand is that there are parts of Iowa outside of Iowa City or Johnson County, and that they're special places worth exploring," he said. "So we get to expose them to areas they might not see otherwise, and they might see an opportunity to stay here instead of leaving for larger cities." 

The partnership will wrap up by June 2023.