Innovation at Work: Designing vibrant communities

It’s a dry, fall day in northwest Iowa. Gretchen Reichter walks through Emmetsburg’s downtown, passing storefronts adorned with scarecrows from a recent retail competition. The community’s marketing and development coordinator stops when she reaches a gap between two businesses. Faded murals of sunflowers and a cornfield cling to the brick walls on either side of the pocket park.

Across town, Reichter points out several transportation improvements. Flashing beacons urge drivers to slow down near the elementary school. Painted lines on roads separate cars and bikes, and a new trail connects the middle and high schools with the hospital and Iowa Lakes Community College.

These and other project priorities in Emmetsburg emerged from participating in Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program in 2020/2021. The program is a collaboration between Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development (CED), the Iowa Department of Transportation, the nonprofit organization Trees Forever, private-sector landscape architects and community stakeholders. Since its creation in 1996, 258 towns have participated, 40 of which have been in the program more than once.

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