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Urban Iowa: "Once you put asphalt over the top of it, there's no reclaiming it"

David Wade Couch
Just outside of Des Moines, Ankeny's population has gone from 15,000 in 1980 to more than 50,000 in 2014. By 2035, population is expected to reach 90,000.

Today we continue our summer series on the environment by taking a look at urban development – what we’re doing right and wrong.

“Iowa is basically doing what the East and West coast did 20 years ago; but we haven’t learned from them," says Ankeny resident, LaVonne Griffieon.

When we think of urban sprawl, cities like Chicago come to mind, with several hundred towns surrounding the city. But Iowa is not immune to the concept of urban sprawl – and the state has its own debates about urban development.

Take Ankeny, for example, just outside of Des Moines. Ankeny's population has more than tripled since 1980, making it one of Iowa's fastest growing communities. LaVonne Griffieon is an Ankeny resident who runs a century farm with her husband. She predicts that one day Iowans will regret being too quick to develop on potential farm land.

"We may have wished that we had preserved some of the soil, instead of putting housing on it," she says. "Once you strip it away and put asphalt over the top of it, there's no reclaiming it."

This hour, we look at what is happening in Iowa when it comes to urban land usage: the environmental challenges urban sprawl brings, what communities are doing to redevelop their cities and to develop sustainable "green" planning, and how feasible it is to develop sustainable infrastructure and public policy.

Here's a unique Iowa project featured on the show - Dubuque's "Green Alley" program.

Credit City of Dubuque
Permeable pavement has openings that allow water to pass through the surface into the soil. Green alleys can be formed in multiple ways, including permeable asphalt, permeable concrete, and permeable pavers.

The Green Alley project came about to reduce flooding. Dubuque has about 1300 homes that regularly flood, and that’s with a flood wall. Permeable pavement helps water soak through the street into the soil, while improving water quality by acting as a filter to keep sediment and pollution out of the river.

More information on the project can be found here. 13 to 14 alleys currently have the permeable pavement, and in 20 years, they hope to have 250 alleys reconstructed.

Credit City of Dubuque
The City of Dubuque hopes to reconstruct up to 250 alleyways in the next 20 years, using permeable paving methods.

Today's guests include:

LaVonne Griffieon, Ankeny resident, member of the group “1000 Friends of Iowa” Jim Throgmorton, Iowa City council member, Emeritus Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa Dave Swenson, Associate Scientist in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University Jon Dienst, Civil Engineer for the City of Dubuque, project manager for the city’s Green Alley project Ethan Fawley, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River