"It’s about doing what’s right for your community and the environment...It’s going to be a region for your kids and grandkids, so what kind of region do you want for them?  – Bethany Wilcoxon, MPO senior transportation planner
"It’s about doing what’s right for your community and the environment...It’s going to be a region for your kids and grandkids, so what kind of region do you want for them? – Bethany Wilcoxon, MPO senior transportation planner

When your children or their children walk outside the door of their Central Iowa home in 2050, what will they see? What will their neighborhood look like? How will they get to school, work or the grocery store?

The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) Tomorrow Plan is facilitating thought about these things, even if the MPO can’t fully answer the questions today. The regional sustainable plan is designed to help area governments, leaders and citizens think about the positive and negative consequences of their short-term and long-term choices.

“It’s about doing what’s right for your community and the environment,” said MPO Senior Transportation Planner Bethany Wilcoxon, who is leading the planning process. “It’s going to be a region for your kids and grandkids, so what kind of region do you want for them? Do you want them to move back after college, or say: ‘No way, I’m never going to be in Des Moines’?”

The first draft of the plan is out and has been reviewed by MPO member government officials and the public. The MPO now is making changes to the draft before going through another round of public hearings.

The Business Record sat down with Wilcoxon to discuss what business leaders should know about the plan.

A guideline

The plan isn’t a set of hard-and-fast rules, but functions as guidelines for the region and individual communities to consider as they move forward. As cities develop, update and implement their community-specific comprehensive plans, The Tomorrow Plan is something to keep in mind, Wilcoxon said. “One thing we’ve been emphasizing is that strategies that work for the city of Des Moines aren’t necessarily going to work for the city of Carlisle,” she said. “Or if they do, there are going to be different takes on it.” It’s all voluntary, but Wilcoxon notes that officials from all of the cities in the planning area were able to give their input on the front end. “Every strategy in this plan has been written in part by the community, by stakeholders,” she said.

2. Sustainability

The plan lays out a number of initiatives and goals to improve sustainability in the region moving forward. Those include:

• Building a fully connected system of greenways, or natural resource areas, by expanding the existing networks of parks, conservation areas, open space and trails. “That really is the big one, I would say, which has caught our steering committee’s attention,” Wilcoxon said.

• Establishing watershed management authorities that give cooperating municipalities a vehicle to better control storm water runoff.

• Building what the plan refers to as “resilient neighborhoods.” Wilcoxon describes it as being aware of future growth in the region – the population is expected to grow by 250,000 people, or 33 percent, by 2050 – and planning accordingly. For example, when development happens, is it better to build a six-lane road, which is difficult for pedestrians to cross, or would a two- or four-lane road suffice? Another example would be doing things such as planting trees next to roads. One thing to note from the planners: If current development trends continue without change, the region would lose half of its farmland by 2050.

3. Changing demographics

One thing emphasized in the planning process was the need to address both what young professionals are looking for as well as what retiring Baby Boomers will require. For example, younger people are looking for transportation options besides driving, whether it be walking, bicycling or riding the bus. Baby Boomers might have different preferences, Wilcoxon said. “Are they going to continue to drive? Are they going to be able to drive? Are they going to want to walk to the corner store, doctor, grocery store, whatever it may be?” she asks. To help deal with different preferences, the draft of the plan encourages mixed-use neighborhoods, or those that combine residential, commercial and entertainment uses.

4. Cooperation

We’re in a global economy, Wilcoxon says, and our region has to think about things that way. It’s not Des Moines vs. West Des Moines vs. Clive. The metro region needs to think about how it looks from a global scale. “We can’t have this infighting,” Wilcoxon said. “We’d rather have the tax base in our region. We move throughout all the different communities; everyone is like that in our region. So, don’t we want our tax base in our region rather than halfway across the globe?” A number of initiatives in the plan would be easier to implement with regional cooperation, such as the emphasis on public transportation or walking trails. Another example includes cooperating on storm water management initiatives.

5. The business case

What should business owners and CEOs know about the plan? “What kind of employees do you want to attract?” Wilcoxon says. “It really comes down to a quality-of-life piece.” She refers to making the healthy choice the first choice – in other words, making it easier to walk or bike or having more access to healthful local foods. That will lower health care costs of employees and help businesses reduce their costs in the long run, she said. How can business leaders help implement the ideals of the plan? By doing things such as reducing energy consumption in their businesses, looking at their waste streams and being involved on committees. The plan calls for a Regional Infrastructure Coordinating Committee, designed to involve multiple communities to coordinate infrastructure projects, and a committee called “Zest,” designed to push health and wellbeing projects in the region. Both of those things could benefit from business involvement, Wilcoxon said.

To see the full first draft of the plan online, go to ?http://www.thetomorrowplan.com/documents/TTP_ReportDRAFT.pdf