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Smart Growth

Smart Growth Technical Assistance in Iowa

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In 2009, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and EPA worked with state and local partners to help six Iowa communities recover and rebuild from the floods and tornadoes of 2008. This partnership produced smart growth strategies tailored to each community for recovery efforts to improve quality of life, stimulate economic opportunity, and become more resilient to future floods.

The six communities were:

As a result of this work, EPA and FEMA entered into an agreement to continue collaboration on long-term community recovery, hazard mitigation, and community resiliency efforts. The agreement also helps the agencies coordinate on adaptation to the effects of climate change.

Read FEMA's fact sheet on Smart Growth Assistance in Iowa.

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Smart Growth and Community Resilience

Smart growth strategies can help communities become more resilient to flooding, and sharing the lessons of rebuilding can offer models to help other communities prepare for or recover from natural disasters. Smart growth strategies used in post-disaster recovery include land use policies and investments that support both short-term redevelopment and long-term resiliency.

When faced with rising water levels and floods due to intense rain events, communities can recover and grow more resiliently when they make room for water and grow well in appropriate places by mixing uses, designing buildings compactly, and providing choices in where to live and how to get around.

Following the devastation and disruption of floods and tornadoes, the six Iowa communities seized the chance to implement smart growth approaches to recover in more resilient and sustainable ways. EPA and FEMA began to collaborate approximately six months after initial recovery work had begun. By this time, the communities had begun acquiring the most flood-affected properties. Property buyouts use a variety of funding sources, including FEMA, U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and local funds, and can help communities mitigate against future damage.

The buyout process and other flood mitigation strategies helped identify high-risk areas and gave each community a common understanding of where not to grow to make room for future floods. The smart growth assistance helped the six communities to establish visions for directing future growth, adjust codes and ordinances, and direct public investments toward less risky areas that could accommodate current and future growth.

The goals were to help the communities create safer, more convenient neighborhoods; increase their residents' options for where to live and how to get around; and increase development opportunities in less flood-prone areas. Several communities also received assistance with green infrastructure strategies to help deal with typical stormwater runoff.

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Agency Collaboration

State agencies contributed significantly to all six projects. The Rebuild Iowa Project Exit(RIO) provided critical coordination assistance and knowledge of state policies that influence long-term community recovery. RIO wrote a proposal to integrate smart growth practices into a standard state and community approach to rebuilding and resiliency. The state legislature adopted these principles for Iowa smart planning(2 pp, 587 K, About PDF) Exit in 2010. Other participating agencies included the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

In Waverly, the Iowa office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Development joined the team. USDA Rural Development invests significantly in communities across rural America and is a major contributor to long-term disaster recovery efforts in rural communities. Because Waverly’s population is less than 10,000 people, the town is eligible for most USDA Rural Development programs.

Email smartgrowth@epa.gov to learn more about the projects below.

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Project Descriptions

Cedar Falls
Site visit: September 30-October 1, 2009

Cedar Falls requested assistance to expand housing choices in the neighborhoods most appropriate for new growth and infill development. The city also wanted help with implementing green infrastructure approaches in flood-prone areas. After the 2008 floods, many homes in the flood plain were bought out and restored to green space. To ensure that the former residents of these homes can stay in Cedar Falls, the city wants to create more housing choices in other parts of the city. In the flood plain, the city wants to expand recreational opportunities and adopt site-specific practices for managing stormwater.

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Cedar Rapids
Site visit: September 9-10, 2009

Cedar Rapids requested assistance in reviewing current development policies and codes for existing or potential barriers to more sustainable growth. EPA, FEMA, RIO, IDED, and national experts on zoning codes and development regulations met with local stakeholders to review development policies.

The team provided ideas and resources on existing codes, smart growth strategies, infill strategies, and green infrastructure practices. The report summarizes these findings and offers resources for communities that want to adjust major land use policies to create incentives for infill development and sustainable growth.

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Site visit: November 4-5, 2009

Coralville requested assistance with creating a vision and ensuring that codes and ordinances could accommodate future growth through infill redevelopment. The area identified for redevelopment is a 30-block area adjacent to transit lines that go to Iowa City and the University of Iowa. The city also asked for help in identifying green infrastructure practices to help manage stormwater runoff.

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Iowa City
Site visit: November 11-13, 2009

Iowa City asked for assistance in redeveloping the South Gilbert Street Commercial Corridor. The corridor is ideal for compact development in combination with usable public open space, taking advantage of its central location and transit access. Because flooding occurred in and around the corridor, Iowa City wants to relocate current development to less flood-prone areas and use those sites in a flood mitigation strategy. The EPA-FEMA team helped the city identify strategies for accommodating future growth in the corridor and increasing green infrastructure and open space to help mitigate future floods.

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New Hartford
Site visit: July 16-17, 2009

New Hartford requested help with stormwater management and preventing future flooding. During moderate and heavy rain events, pooling water covers much of the community. Green infrastructure techniques can be part of the solution for managing stormwater during rain events. EPA helped to organize a workshop outlining green infrastructure strategies that New Hartford could adopt to address its stormwater and flooding challenges.

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Site visit: May 26-27, 2009

Waverly asked for help in developing policy options and project design ideas for green infrastructure strategies and housing and infill policies that could inform the city’s revision of its comprehensive plan. EPA, FEMA, USDA Rural Development, RIO, IDED, Iowa Northland Region Council of Governments, city staff, and national experts on community design and town planning convened a Smart Planning Workshop to solicit community feedback on initial policy and design ideas.

The team developed policy options for green infrastructure strategies and housing and infill policies that could be incorporated into the city's comprehensive plan and development regulations. The team also produced project designs that illustrated what these approaches could look like if the city implemented them in various neighborhoods.

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