Thursday, September 7, 2023

Twenty University of Iowa students and faculty traveled to Bondurant last week to kickoff a yearlong partnership between the University of Iowa’s Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) and the city. Located in Polk County and considered part of the Des Moines metropolitan area, Bondurant was competitively selected as one of two IISC site partners for this year; the other is Dubuque.

A man in a blue business shirt talks to a group in a lecture hall style room.
Mayor Doug Elrod addresses UI students and faculty during IISC's kickoff in Bondurant.

City's growth provides unique learning opportunities

In a welcoming presentation, Mayor Doug Elrod shared slides illustrating Bondurant’s rapid growth. As the second-fasting growing city in Iowa, Bondurant’s population is now believed to be over 9,000—already enough above the 2020 Census that it is holding a special census to get a solid count. In 2010, its population was 3,860. The median age is 31 years, and the median household income is nearly $107,000.

“Unlike many Iowa communities that need to focus on smaller populations and what planners allude to as ‘shrinking smartly,’ Bondurant is in a unique situation of rapid growth,” says Travis Kraus, IISC’s director. The needs that come with this growth provide interesting challenges and learning opportunities for UI students who will work with Bondurant during the 2023-24 academic year. They will complete 15 projects and bring a wide array of academic skills to the city, including archival research, art, engineering, and planning.

woman in a bright green shirt and blue skirt stands and talks into a microphone on a bus.
Maggie Murray, Bondurant's Director of Planning and Community Development, gives a city tour.


New developments featured on tour

“We have a big need with regard to infrastructure,” noted Mayor Elrod. During a bus tour of the city these needs became evident. The UI group saw multiple new housing and commercial developments. Some of these have been completed recently, while other sites, which are now open fields, were pointed out as having been slated for development in the coming months. A new junior high school was on the tour, as well as a large Amazon fulfillment center that employs more than 2,300 people. The group heard from multiple developers who have current projects in the city and who shared their enthusiasm for Bondurant’s support for business.

a group of young people sit at a table in a restaurant and smile for the camera.
Students from the School of Planning and Public Affairs enjoy dessert at Home Slice Handmade Pies.

Parks and Rec plan will go beyond playgrounds

Two projects will focus on improving Bondurant’s parks and recreation amenities. The city is on the popular Chichaqua Valley Trail, which is used by cyclists and cross-country skiers. It is eager to improve the connectivity of its existing trails system to make it even more appealing to recreational visitors. This fall, four students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will create plans for one linked trail.

For their yearlong capstone project, a group of students in the School of Planning and Public Affairs will create a new parks and recreation master plan for the city. The city’s former master plan is a decade old and a new one is needed to align land use with community needs, including health and recreation needs and trends that include everything from increasing pollinators and tree coverage in parks to improving accessibility for walking routes and emerging activities like pickleball.

Kenna Bell, a UI Sustainable Development graduate student and native of Des Moines who had never visited the nearby town is excited to work with Bondurant on its new plan. “I was struck by the way my neighbors have maintained their distinct hometown feel while adapting to exponential growth,” she says. “It was particularly exciting to learn about the bike trails that connect Bondurant to Des Moines. Iowa’s trails and parks were defining features of my childhood, and I am really looking forward to increasing the awareness and accessibility of those amenities.”

Balancing growth and history

Older woman in yellow sweater holds old black and white portrait of a caucasian man.
Deb Harwood of the Bondurant Historic Society holds a portrait of Alexander Bondurant.

Also attending the kickoff event were graduate students in Eric Gidal’s course “Humanities Lab: Bioregionalism in History, Theory, and Practice.” Humanities Labs are a new kind of graduate course offered at the UI. They are funded by a grant through the UI's Obermann Center as part of a new collaborative, practice-based graduate Certificate and Master’s degree currently in development. The course offers an opportunity to develop valuable research skills; to gain experience in collaborative, cross-disciplinary production; and to develop expertise in publicly engaged scholarship.  

The students in Gidal’s seminar are partnering with the Bondurant Historical Society, members of whom were on hand for the kickoff. It turned out to be the birthday of Alexander Bondurant, who settled there in 1857, establishing Bondurant Homestead. The graduate students will work in small groups to complete projects that explore the inherent tension involved in the city’s growth with observance of its past.


To see a full list of IISC’s projects in Bondurant, go to: