Hannah Twaddell Has the Floor

Urban planning expert talks housing with Urbandale residents

Hannah Twaddell Has the Floor

I recently had the privilege of helping to facilitate an intensive, two-day workshop about advancing equitable development with an amazing group of bright, thoughtful, and proactive Urbandale residents, staff, and officials.  Supported by a technical assistance award from the US Environmental Protection Agency's Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program, the workshop was preceded by several teleconferences and a detailed self-assessment conducted by a steering committee of community leaders convened by the Polk County Housing Trust Fund.  On our first day in town, we were treated to an in-person tour of key locations around the community that exemplified key issues and opportunities related to equitable development.

I’ve facilitated Building Blocks workshops with a variety of cities and towns across the country.  Urbandale’s steering committee was the most knowledgeable and well prepared of any with whom I’ve worked.  We were able to gain a strong understanding of key issues and opportunities ahead of our trip, and our initial “site tour” gave us a chance to experience them firsthand.   We noticed several strengths, challenges and opportunities that make this community “Uniquely Urbandale" in terms of housing and commercial diversity, parks, public art and other amenities, and transportation accessibility. 

The workshop kicked off with an evening public meeting at which participants learned about the principles of equitable development, defined it relevant to Urbandale’s values and concerns, and drafted a set of goals and strategies for in-depth action planning session with local staff and officials the following day.

What is equitable development? We provided the definition shown below to workshop participants as a starting point for discussion:  “Approaches for creating communities and regions where residents of all incomes, races, and ethnicities participate in and benefit from decisions that shape the places where they live.”  Then we asked people to give us their impressions of what the concept meant within Urbandale.  The responses centered around themes of growth management, livability, and quality of life.

Based on the self-assessment, teleconferences with the steering committee, and opening community meeting, the team highlighted three core strategies that related the most closely to Urbandale’s immediate issues and opportunities:  provide housing choices; provide transportation options; and preserve/build upon features that make the community distinctive.  During the second day of the workshop, we worked with about 20 local stakeholders to sketch out action plans for our implementation steps (see pages 23-25).  

Perhaps one of the most compelling moments of the workshop was when people thought about how old they would be in the year 2050 (35 years from now), and what they would want and need the community to provide for them personally, as well as their (current or future) children and grandchildren. The exercise helped them to focus on the imperative of helping City leadership to articulate a clear vision of the future it wants to achieve and align its policies with that vision far in advance to get there. Toward this end, we will spend the new few weeks putting together a Next Steps memo for equitable development that the steering committee can share with City Council and implement with community partners over time. 

Given all the energy, engagement, and expertise generated by the people who participated in this process, I am confident that “Uniquely Urbandale” will emerge as a leader -- not only within Iowa but within the entire nation – in successfully achieving the uniquely American dream of equitable development.

Hannah Twaddell is an urban planning consultant with ICF International who provides technical support to the EPA Sustainable Communities program as part of a consultant team headed by Renaissance Planning Group.  She has worked with dozens of communities over the past 25 years to foster smart growth that benefits the environment, economy, and quality of life. The opinions expressed in this article are fully her own, and do not represent EPA policies or directives.

Urbandale Workshop Presentation