Dubuque, iowa: Investing in Sustainability

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Roy Buol will tell you that the theme of making Dubuque a more sustainable city was central to his successful run for mayor in 2005. He’ll tell you how much the issue resonated with the thousands of voters he spoke with in the course of knocking on thousands of doors. But one thing he won’t do is take top credit forDubuque becoming the model of a sustainable midsize city that it is today.

To Buol, that credit goes to the 60,000 citizens of Dubuque who worked to establish a unified vision of what sustainability means to them as a community. “My role was really to focus and channel a set of beliefs and priorities that was already there,” Buol explains.

One key question was where to start. After the first few months of planning, several ideas made it to the table, reflecting the wish lists of a variety of groups. The filtering process took the form of a two-day workshop that dove deeply into issues of payback, practicality and timing. Moderated jointly by Council member IBM and key city officials, and involving no fewer than 83 people with diverse perspectives, the sessions produced both a clear consensus on where to focus and a roadmap for action.

The decision to lead off with a water conservation initiative was in many ways an outgrowth of Dubuque’s existing efforts to revitalize its Mississippi River waterfront areas. But another key factor was the pragmatic desire to take advantage of a water meter replacement program that was already in the works, which would effectively lower the risk and cost of implementing it.