Category Archives: Featured

Community Conversations

While most of us have been staying at home during Covid-19, we have been working with sustainability teams across central Iowa to do webinars on critical topics and plan for how to move forward equitable climate and sustainability action on the local level. Check out these community conversations Below:

Sustainable City Code with Johnathan Rosenbloom

Transportation in the Metro

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories and UNI’s CEEE

Stormwater and Flooding

Climate Action Planning

2019 Best Development Award Winners announced

1000 Friends of Iowa announces 13 winners, 9 categories, 5 jurors

1000 Friends of Iowa is pleased to announce the winners of the 2019 Best Development Awards. The awards program showcases projects that recognize connections between building and project development to quality of life. With a mission focused on responsible land use, 1000 Friends of Iowa promotes smart growth planning principles that help achieve socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable communities. Projects recognized this year are located in the following communities: Altoona, Belle Plaine, Coralville, Davenport, Dyersville, Fort Madison, Grinnell, Iowa City, Johnson County, Knoxville, Marshalltown, Readlyn, and Stanton.

Plaques will be presented to winning applicants at an awards ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, at the Iowa State Capitol Building, First Floor Rotunda, from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. The public is invited to attend. Register here.

The hard work of the 2019 Best Development Award winners is acknowledged today ahead of the presentation ceremony. The category, project name, and city are listed here, followed by a short description and local contact.

New Civic: Unitarian Universalist Society Church, Coralville Over 200 friends and members of the Society informed a zero energy, accessible building that shares parking spaces with neighboring lots; planned the entire site for preservation of natural woodland and stormwater management; solar and geothermal energy; sustainable construction materials and conservation-minded finishes and fixtures. Contact:

Renovated Civic: Grinnell Central Park, Grinnell Gifted to the City in the last 1800’s, generations of citizens experienced Central Park. By modernizing and updating the park, the adjacent downtown has also seen new energy. With a healthy mix of funding sources, the history and culture of Grinnell are honored. Simultaneously, the site’s greenspace, stormwater management, and safety are also enhancing the park to be an asset that its citizens love to use. Contact:

Renovated Commercial: Textile Brewing Company, Dyersville Dyersville Industries took a vacant, blighted downtown “Sewing Factory” building, restored it, and converted it into a place for community. Using contents inside the building and preserving the original structure, history is acknowledged in the walls, decor, and furnishings. The business has caused a ripple effect in tourism, downtown traffic, and awareness of water quality. Contact:

Innovative Leadership: Solarize Johnson County 2018 Many stakeholders executed an education and group-buy program for solar arrays in both urban and rural areas. Using mostly existing rooftops, the project adds 1.12 MW of solar energy to the County. Modeling after another city’s solar group buy, Solarize Johnson County’s is “paying it forward” by presenting their work to other audiences. Contact:

Mixed Use (tie): Lee County Bank and Cattermole Library, Fort Madison Fort Madison’s Downtown Commercial Historic District included the Lee County Bank, built in 1893, and Cattermole Library, built in 1894. Both sat vacant for many years. Barker Companies rehabilitated and renovated the exterior and interior of both buildings, leading to a renewed downtown area. The two upper floors of the Bank were transformed into 14 apartments while the lower floor was left mostly unchanged. The Cattermole Library was also converted to apartments on its upper floor while the lower floor is offices, with the original library circulation desk as the reception desk. Now fully occupied, the buildings are inspiring other activity in the historic district. Contact:

Mixed Use (tie): Mason Building Renovation, Stanton With significant community buy-in, the Mason Building (also called the Tarkio Masonic Lodge), fits 1000 Friends of Iowa’s smart growth principles very well for high quality of life. Using private and public funds, reusing an existing structure built in 1878, the space now houses an apartment and two commercial tenants. Owners of an additional 13 downtown buildings are now looking at uplifting their facades. Contact:

Renewable Energy: Knoxville Community School District, Knoxville With 11 of its 12 facilities installing solar systems, 92% of the District’s electricity is now supplied by solar energy. Financed with a power purchase agreement (with Red Lion Renewables, a previous Innovative Leadership winner), the district expects to save $8500 annually and reduce carbon emissions by 1,235 tons per year over the 30 year lifetime of the arrays. Additionally, live data sharing is available between arrays, and a tool is under development to use this data for student lessons. Contact:

New Residential , Owner-Occupied: Prairie Hill Cohousing, Iowa City Built on an 8-acre infill, the Prairie Hill development supports alternative transportation with its location near downtown, the university, a bus stop, and businesses. Duplexes and 4-plexes were designed to shared walls and roofs to reduce the use of sustainable construction materials, solar panels, and labor costs. The site was planted for low-irrigation and no-mow space, with stormwater management practices installed. The development also supports many price points to make housing accessible and affordable. Contact:

New Residential, Multi-family Rental: Altoona Towers, Altoona The Altoona Towers were built for energy efficiency and include charging stations for electric cars, a bus stop, proximity to bicycle trails. Thoughtful consideration of building and site successfully show that landlords can make capital investments to keep tenant utility bills at a minimum, even if the tenant is not conservation-minded. By using energy efficient construction materials, appliances, window dressings, and lighting in rental housing, energy consumption can affordably be reduced to the benefit of the tenant and the landlord. Contact:

Renovated Residential: Naval Station, Davenport Built in 1904, our Renovated Residential winner has seen many uses as a grade school, a naval training station, and storage facility. Today, it is an excellent example of an adaptive reuse of an historic building with an integrated stormwater management system. After sitting in disrepair as a blighted lot, the Naval Station was renovated and rehabilitated for mixed income senior homes. By addressing the entire site, neighborhood got an uplift from a number of funding sources to the infrastructure and the lot, as well as launching a domino effect in an historic area. The use of salvaged and sustainable construction materials, inclusion of alternative transportation, thoughtful landscaping, and interior work contributes to its positive environmental impact. Contact:

Stormwater Management, Private: Gallery Garden, Marshalltown The land for this project was vacant because of a building fire. It was privately developed into a unique, urban park space that addresses multiple stormwater issues for the area. The focal point is a gallery garden wall, which is irrigated by the stormwater. The resources on the site stay on the site, with the irrigation system, lighting, and cameras all powered by solar panels. With its shelter and seating, the Gallery Garden is a popular public location for viewing artwork and the garden features, events, photography, and more. Its signage educates users about the sustainable practices. Contact:

Stormwater Management, Public: Readlyn Wetland, Readlyn Runoff from more than half of the City flows into this created wetland to reduce stormwater wetland, which benefits everyone downstream in the 95-acre watershed. The property for the wetland was purchased from a private landowner and future plans include a recreational walking trail. Moreover, a trailhead for the Rolling Prairie Trail is nearby and supports a high quality of life for residents. The Watershed Management Authority and the local school have been involved, including a grant awarded for students to install edgeland plants along the wetland in 2020. Contact:

Urban Placemaking/Greenspace: Larry Schlue Memorial Sound Park, Belle Plaine After 5 years of collaboration across many sectors, the City of Belle Plaine converted an underused grassy lot with benches into a space that honors the railroad culture of the town, a man who was a champion for his community, and connects many users to downtown. The Sound Park builds off an earlier revitalization effort to support a thriving and walkable business district. Contact:

Winners of the Best Development Awards are selected from a pool of applicants each year in up to twelve categories by a panel of jurors. This year’s jurors have a variety of backgrounds: Pat Boddy, Stewardship Director for RDG Planning and Design; Megan Down, Project Manager for Impact7G; Jeff Geerts, Special Projects Manager for Iowa Economic Development Authority; Jeff Hanson, Community Development Operations Manager for the City of Sioux City, and Ulrike Passe, Associate Professor of Architecture and Director of the Iowa State University Center for Building Energy Research.

1000 Friends of Iowa, founded in 1998, is a statewide nonprofit organization focused on land use education. Its mission is to unite Iowans in efforts to protect farmland and natural areas, revitalize neighborhoods, towns and cities, and improve the quality of life for future generations.

The Best Development Awards Program, founded in 2001, recognizes the organization’s mission in a tangible manner through awards in twelve categories.

Climate Action at the local level

DES MOINES: The city of Des Moines is one step closer to moving forward with developing a climate action plan. On May 6, 2019, during a City Council work session, Eric Giddens of the University of Northern Iowa Center on Energy and Environmental Education discussed the results of a newly completed Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for the city of Des Moines. Check it out here.

The city of Des Moines adopted the energy and water benchmarking ordinance at its June 3rd meeting. The much-watered down ordinance that was passed is not the end of it. The council will revisit the ordinance and a proposed change in August.

Later in the year, the city of Des Moines will be voting to approve an MOU with UNI’s Center for Energy and environmental Education to start the process of creating a citywide climate action plan! These efforts are being lead by the Des Moines Citizens Taskforce on Sustainability.

IOWA CITY: The city of Iowa City adopted a Climate Action plan in 2018. Check out their plan here. We appreciate the cities leadership in creating and adopting the plan. Now we must ensure the city implements to GHG reduction steps laid out in the plan. Stay tuned for how you can get involved.

AMES: The city has established key energy goals to reduce their green house gas emissions. In addition, the city is in the process of updating their greenhouse gas emissions inventory and creating a community solar garden. A community group – the Ames Climate Action Team – has formed to help push the city to do even more to address climate change.

Help Save Energy Efficiency.


Right  now, making it’s way through the Iowa State House is a horrible bill  – Senate File (SF) 2311 (formerly SSB 3093). The bill has passed out of committees in both houses and was passed out of the full senate.  The bill is now awaiting debate in the full house. This bill has sweeping changes that decimates energy efficiency programs, potentially losing over 80% of the current funds, it essentially deregulates utilities in Iowa, leaving all utility customers vulnerable to soaring prices and the whims of the utility companies, and it makes it easier for gas pipelines to be built in Iowa.

If enacted, Senate File (SF) 2311 (formerly SSB 3093), which is being championed by Iowa’s investor owned utilities, would:
  • Effectively deregulate Iowa’s energy utilities;
  • Slash energy efficiency programs, potentially by up to 80% or more;
  • Make it easier for gas pipelines to build in Iowa.
  • And though the bad solar provisions were removed, there is still an effort to put them back into the bill which if added back in, could essentially kill rooftop and community solar by allowing utility companies to discriminate against solar customers.
So what does that mean for you? It means:
This bill is bad for Iowans. Energy efficiency is a key factor that keeps utility rates low in Iowa. If passed,  utility rates will go up. Low income people will lose out on energy efficiency and weatherization programs  programs and utility companies can build unnecessary fossils fuel generation plants and charge all of their customers to foot the bill.
We could see a potential loss of over 20,000 jobs in the energy efficiency sectors and and a loss of over $200,000,000 that would have been savings for utility customers.
If you are asking what we can do about it, keep reading!

Talking points for the overall bill:  Click here.

Energy Efficiency Fact Sheet: Click here.

Another bad bill that is now making it’s way through the senate is SSB 3078. This bill proposes to eliminate all energy efficiency programs. It is on the Ways and Means subcommittee schedule for Monday, March 19 at 3:00 p.m. The subcommittee is made up of Senator Fenestra, Senator Hogg, and Senator R.Schmidt. Please contact all three of them and ask them to oppose SSB 3078.  Click here to find their contact info.

Take Action to Proct Topsoil

Protecting topsoil is one of 1000 Friends of Iowa’s highest priorities. In 2015, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Commission gutted the requirement to maintain at least 4 inches of topsoil on residential construction sites. Because topsoil is so crucial for flood mitigation, carbon sequestering, filtering out pollutants to keep our water clean and for growing the pants and food we depend on;  we are turning to local communities to take action to protect our topsoil.

To help communities and Iowa residents take action to adopt topsoil restoration and protection ordinances, 1000 Friends of Iowa has created a handy toolkit with how to’s, talking points and sample ordinances that we like. Get our toolkit here.

Take action! — Communities within the Greater Des Moines Metro Area have been talking about adopting a region-wide topsoil ordinance for a couple of years, but have been dragging their heels. The time to act is now!

Please do two things:

  1. Write a letter to the editor to the Des Moines Register calling on metro cities to adopt the topsoil ordinance. Submit your letters here.
  2. Contact your council members and mayor. Go to you cities home page and click on city council for contact information.

2017-2018 Topsoil ordinances

Congratulations to both the cities of Clive and Cedar Rapids for being the most recent communities to adopt topsoil restoration ordinances!

In 2017, we will reach out to additional communities around the state to adopt similar ordinances. Our soil is too precious not to.

Click here to download the toolkit

Click here to to see the Topsoil Restoration Guide from King County, WA

Click here to view the preliminary ordinance for the city of Clive

Let us know if you take this ordinance to your community by emailing us at 

Why it matters:

* Topsoil retention is very important to urban landscapes — growing plants need healthy soil. New homeowners with no topsoil left in place are often faced with very expensive soil remediation to even begin to establish healthy lawns, trees, and gardens. The savings to the building and construction industry (numbers that keep changing and are unsubstantiated) comes at a great cost to the homeowner and to the watershed.

* Rain events quickly wash fertilizers, also called nutrients, off lots that have been stripped of topsoil. This pollutes our rivers, lakes, and streams. Furthermore, it is costly for the landowner who must spend extra money for repeat fertilizer applications. Keeping soil in place contributes to natural storm water management solutions and helps build healthy, green, and more sustainable neighborhoods for future generations.

Stay updated on our topsoil protection actions at

Letter to DNR about 4″ topsoil rule

Dear Mr. Griffin:

I intend to appear at today’s public hearing regarding the 4-in topsoil rule, but have commitments at work that will prevent me from appearing before 4 pm. In the meantime, please accept the following as my official comment as a private citizen regarding the proposed rule.

I am writing to support the department’s adoption of the top soil preservation provision as a part of the NPDES General Permit #2 as it relates to construction site management.

As you know, a spirited debate is underway in Iowa about various farm practices that are thought to contribute to declines in water quality, soil conservation, and land stewardship in our state. There are good people doing great work in rural Iowa to address these issues, but there is much yet to do. There have been some unfortunate characterizations made about motives and efforts of some ag interests that detracts from the progress accomplished and the journey yet begun.

That said, it is very unfortunate that opposition to the top soil preservation rule focuses on the costs to one industry, without also considering the benefits to all Iowans that such a rule will provide. It is inequitable on the one hand to demand that farmers undertake conservation measures on their lands to benefit themselves, landowners downstream, and the citizens of Iowa, and, on the other, exempt another industry from this responsibility especially when the results of poor land management are identical. In fact, opponents of this rule will be rewarded for undertaking destructive activities that undo conservation projects already in place on ag lands being converted to urban uses.

This conversion is happening at a rapid pace. According to my research of the USDA Census of Agriculture, over the past 25 years more than 1 million acres of farmland formerly in farms in Iowa are apparently no longer being used for farm uses. Some might argue those acres have flowed down the Mississippi River and are now deposited on the floor of the Caribbean. More likely, these lands have been converted to residential, commercial or public use. Nonetheless, this loss means fewer acres available to feed the world over the coming generations. If the soil remains partially intact under new development, perhaps some of these acres can be reclaimed in the future for ag uses.

It seems to me the first duty of any landowner in Iowa is to preserve our soil. Iowans have been blessed with soils of unbelievable fertility. Our soils are the envy of the world and comprise a limited resource for humanity that must not be squandered, wasted, degraded or discarded. And yet, a proposal to require replacement of just a fraction of the topsoil on a typical Iowa construction site — with all of the benefits such as rule obtains for water retention, fertility for garden and ornamental plants, water quality of runoff — is seen as too heavy handed, too expensive, and too much of a threat to personal liberty as to outweigh the natural and global benefit — and I daresay the moral imperative – of replacing a hand width depth of disturbed soil. This is desecration of the worst sort and will be rightly condemned by future generations.

Your department has proposed a reasonable, if somewhat timid, requirement that is in the best interests of Iowans. I urge your department to adopt the rule as written and explore additional regulatory remedies to ensure that Iowa’s soil is not treated like dirt to be scraped off and sold by the ton.


John Morrissey

2014 Best Development Awards Recipients

1000 Friends of Iowa is pleased to present the recipients of the 2014 Best Development Awards! Take a moment to learn more about each recipient and join us in congratulating them!

  • New Residential: Madison Flats, Des Moines
  • Renovated Residential: (Co-Winners) 1924 Leyner Street, Des Moines & 4818 Urbandale Avenue, Des Moines
  • New Commercial/Civic: Viking Center, Stanton
  • Renovated Commercial/Civic: Green Pilot Streetscape Project, West Union
  • Mixed Use: 421 Main Street, Slater
  • Leadership: Woodbine Main Street District, Woodbine
  • Stormwater Management: Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project’s Green Alley Program, Dubuque