First impressions

Iowa Institute for Sustainable Communities makes?WC visit

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Anne Blankenship Kent Harfst, left, director of parks and recreation for Webster City, visits with University of Iowa staff and students during a lunch break Monday. The visitors, part of the Iowa Institute for Sustainable Communities, toured Webster City Monday.

A group of faculty, staff and students from the University of Iowa were in Webster City Monday to get their first glimpse of the community. The group was part of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities at the University of Iowa.

In March it was announced that the Webster City would be the next partner community for IISC. And even before classes start next week at the university, two teams of students and staff had a chance meet some of the key people in the community and also took a tour of Webster City.

“We have a group of graduate students from the School of Urban and Regional Planning – all second year students,” according to Travis Kraus, Director of Economic Development and Sustainability for the Office of Outreach and Engagement at the University of Iowa. “Their second year involves a capstone project that we call field problems. That means they are in communities helping make plans and do planning types of activities. They do this over the entire year.”

Two teams of students visited this week. One group will help with the downtown strategic plan and the other will help create a parks and rec master plan.

“They have nine months to pull it off,” he said. “I work with departments all over campus, but planning students are generally the ones that are our core groups. They do such a great job and spend so much time living and breathing the community work they’re doing with the projects.”

Krause estimated that the teams of students would make at about 10 visits to the community over the course of the school year.

“A big part of what they do is public engagement. We don’t do things without community buy-in or some kind of guidance from the community,” Kraus said.

The students then do a lot of research and develop strategies and then they’ll bring those ideas back.

“People in Webster City should watch for those opportunities and attend them. Hopefully, we’ll have a good turn out for those so we get a wide range of perspectives,” he said.

The parks and rec group did a bike tour with Parks and Recreation Director Kent Harfst leading the way. They visited many of the area green spaces and in the afternoon, had a chance to canoe a section the Boone River.

“We felt if they are going to talk about improving parks and rec here, they should at least experience what Webster City has to offer,” he said.

The downtown group visited the Webster Theater, viewed “Made in Iowa,” and spent the afternoon visiting local businesses, doing what Iowa Economic Development Authority calls the ‘first impression visits.’ The students looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the downtown.

It’s a full day,” he said. “Hard to get it all squeezed in,” he said.

One of the students, Jocelyn Borjas from Fort Worth, Texas, said she was excited to be part of the team.

“What I’m excited about is hearing what the public wants and needs from their parks. We’re kind of thinking of branding and an identity for the parks. And we’ll look at usage too.”

COMMENTS