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Community Renewal
Community Renewal

What makes some of Iowa’s towns thrive as vibrant places to work and play?  What makes some of them dry up and die, lonely as modern ghost towns?

The answers to those questions are at the center of the Iowa Dream.  After all, we are not just Iowans.  We are from towns of all sizes, from our largest city, Des Moines, to our smallest, Beaconsfield (pop. 11)…with names from A (Ackley) to Z (Zwingle).  And what Iowan has not sat around with friends and compared to see who can win the “My high school class was smallest,” battle, as we celebrate our small town and rural roots?

We are rightly proud of our communities.  Who can forget Zach Johnson coming to tears describing his hometown, Cedar Rapids, on national TV after winning the Masters?  Or Shawn Johnson singing the praises of the support and spirit of Des Moines from the Olympic stage?  And towns are proud of themselves, competing fiercely to host RAGBRAI or to establish themselves as an off-highway tourist destination.

But many of our towns are struggling.  The facts?  Only 14 of Iowa’s 99 counties have grown since the Farm Crisis.  Most counties, and the communities that anchor them, are either in a slow decline or a full tailspin as Iowa continues its difficult economic and cultural transitions.

The result?  Brain Drain is the chief concern of local leaders, as the next generation finds no way to stay, and every reason to leave.  Main Streets are being boarded up as small businesses close.  Towns are aging as young people move away, sometimes leaving the senior center as the hub of community.  Parks and cultural features struggle to stay current.  Some of Iowa’s small towns no longer have a single business or a house of worship.  Sadly, this is the new status quo.  The decline of small town Iowa is not desirable, nor is it inevitable.

So, let’s talk about the Iowa Dream.  Every county has natural beauty and communities that can and should thrive.  Each of Iowa’s 99 counties should be growing in jobs, opportunities and population.  Every town, small or large, can compete in the new economy.  Small businesses can flourish, entrepreneurs can thrive, churches can grow and communities can replace quiet, lonely streets with the sounds of kids playing in the yard and neighbors laughing over the fence. 

The answer to what will make our communities thrive again will not come from a bureaucrat driving into town with a carpetbag of answers.  The best solutions for Iowa’s problems are going to come from Iowa’s communities.  From your community.

Strong communities will create a strong Iowa.  It is the ideas of the Next Generation that will lead the way.  Share your ideas for how to make our communities thrive, and look for great ideas on how to improve your own city.  And join The Iowa Dream Project, as we also make sure the elections give us leaders who listen.

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