Iowa Community Success Stories
Atlantic relies on its agricultural economy but has seen diversification into manufacturing, including a local Coca-Cola bottling company that gives Atlantic the nickname ‘The Coca-Cola capital of Iowa’. Each September, visitors travel to Atlantic for Coca-Cola Days to trade collectibles and enjoy the small town environment. The town is on the route of the annual RAGBRAI, the world’s oldest and largest bike-touring event. The police and fire departments engage with kids by collecting money for Toys for Tots, giving all first graders fire detectors for their home, and providing every fourth grader with a bicycle helmet (perhaps they too might one day take part in the RAGBRAI).
The Des Moines metropolitan area is home to over 500,000 citizens, 200,000 of whom reside within the city. Behind London, England and Hartford, CT, Des Moines is the third largest insurance center in the world. The city proudly showcases a spirit of philanthropy through the recently completed Principal Riverwalk as well as the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden. The Garden, formerly a run-down 4.4-acre downtown site, opened in 2009 with 24 works donated to the Des Moines Arts Center by venture capitalist John Pappajohn and his wife Mary.
Des Moines is committed to increasing transparency in its government, as shown in its new process for choosing its city manager. Recent candidates participated in a 2-day vetting process, where members of the community, city department heads, and local media directly asked questions in an open forum. Likewise, the city strives to improve relations between city entities and the community through initiatives like the Community Ambassador Program (CAP). The CAP organizes teams of volunteers from the community and clergy to serve as a liaison between the police department and the community at large.
Similar to the CAP, the police department in Marshalltown works with churches to help connect to the large hispanic, Sudanese, and Burmese immigrant population. The department has a unique means of community outreach: a decorated humvee acquired from the military at no cost to the city. Local businesses and high school students collaborated to refurbish and paint the vehicle, which is now used in local public functions and helps to start a dialogue with community members.
Following a series of tragic drownings in the Iowa River in 2012, the city and local YMCA joined forces to raise money to teach ~600 5th graders to swim. The city is committed to educating its young people through the Marshalltown Educational Partnership, where high school students sign a contract pledging their compliance in GPA maintenance and attendance in exchange for having half of their tuition at a local junior college covered through private donations.
In 2012, Marshalltown decided to educate the community about bullying through its participation in ‘Not In Our Town’ (NIOT) (learn more here). Importantly, this was undertaken before any tragic bullying instances took place in the town. This proactive initiative was the idea of Times Republican newspaper publisher Mike Schlesinger, who was moved to act after reading a front page editorial from a Sioux City newspaper describing how extreme bullying caused a 14-year old boy to take his own life. Coordinating with Marshalltown police, schools, business leaders and the mayor, the NIOT movement continues to work towards building a safe and inclusive Marshalltown for all.
The ‘City of Five Seasons’ (where ‘the 5th is the time to enjoy the other four’), Cedar Rapids was chosen as a 2014 All American City. Cedar Rapids is participating in the Blue Zones Project, which works with communities to help citizens make healthy life choices (learn more here). Over 205,000 Iowans have signed the Blue Zones pledge to live healthier lives, which means they have pledged to follow simple measures that have been shown to help improve life expectancy and quality around the world.
The city maintains an ongoing ‘culture of resiliency’ after a devastating 2008 flood, where over 3,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. There were no human lives lost, partly thanks to emergency response drills that were regularly performed at the city’s nuclear power plant. We were fortunate to sit in on a city council meeting where council members approved the final flood project: a new recreation center in a neighborhood hit especially hard by the flood. Numerous citizens spoke at the meeting to express their sincere gratitude for the measure’s approval.