Regenerative Iowa City, Part Three: Permaculture, Community, and Culture

In May 2015 I wrote a proposal as a final project for a class called Literature of the Anthropocene. My proposal was in regards in turning Iowa City into a regenerative city. While I hope we as a city take the initiatives needed to make this a reality, I’m going to be posting my long essay in a series of small parts in order to spark conversation on the environment, climate change, community, and where the future of humanity should go from here, starting in a place like Iowa City.


The development of a new and sustainable permaculture is vital in mending the relationship between cities and the ecosystems beyond them. Our ecological footprints spread over many areas of human mass production and development, the largest being that from food production. Farming systems supplying the bulk of food, usually grain, to urban populations strikes a problem because both carbon and plant nutrients are removed from the farmland as food is harvested, and these are not returned back to the land (World Future Council). A third of food production energy is spent on processing and packaging in the United States; looking into urban agriculture as well as increasing the organic agriculture already in place will decrease our carbon footprint as well as bring people together to work for the betterment of their community ( All University of Iowa students should be aware about where the food they consume comes from, as well as maybe even have required hours, or a whole dedicated class, in which they provide their own labor in order to cultivate food for their campus and the surrounding Iowa City community. This could extend to all community members too. This would start small, in which community members and students would foster their food and then be able to track where it goes in the community and how it gets prepared for someone to eat, perhaps beginning with the homeless shelter. In addition to becoming aware of the process of locally grown food, citizens and students can also employ turning waste into compost, returning certain plant nutrients and carbon to farmland and gardens, and in turn feeding themselves and their own city.


Here permaculture collides with the idea of shared spaces, public spots for nature and community to gather in one moment in time (Future of Cities Forum 4). The pedestrian mall, the Pentacrest, and College Green park would be great examples of how to further expand on this idea. This allows us to reconnect as human beings, take notice of nature around us, and effectively self-reflect on our human accomplishments as a group of people instead of tearing down nature in the process. It feels imperative that “cultural producers”—such as artists, writers, musicians, etc.—work in these shared spaces as well as with policymakers and non-profit managers in the development of regenerative cities. Culture never disappears, but it alters over time. Certain “cultural producers” would nudge the regenerative city movement forward with a positive, artistic spin, appealing a wider audience to appreciate the beauty in themselves and their surrounding environment. Iowa City, as a diverse cultural place, has the power to prompt this through writing (being the only UNESCO City of Literature in the United States, as well as home to the best MFA writing program in the world), through music (the music scene here is unbelievable, especially when it collides with literature and art in events like Mission Creek Festival), and through art (the benches in the ped mall that art students paint really impact and spruce up the area). Cultural artists have a chance to make a difference and work for something more worthwhile than abandoning their English majors in lieu of an eight to five job that pays them what they need to live but does not highlight their true skills and passions. Shared spaces provide support, provide love, and provide inspiration.

Figure 2 – Depicting the evolution of building infrastructures and the circular, connected goal we should strive for in a regenerative Iowa City.

Speaking with cultural producers in addition to marginalized and oppressed groups of people would make this city truly regenerative in the future. This requires reaching for citizen engagement instead of just acknowledging the voices of people who retain an unspoken privilege. Iowa City cannot ever attain true regeneration as an urban community if it does not take into account the views of groups who are not normally represented, such as women, minorities, low-income households, etc. This provides an open forum so every citizen knows they are valued and that their input is necessary for the continuation of their city. Additionally, said communication of ideas from all who offer them should also mimic a circular metabolism (Future of Cities Forum 10). Eco-systemic development in ideas invites circular yet productive discussions on buildings (see Figure 2), economic ventures, food production, transportation, and more.



Works Cited (Part Three)

Girardet, Herbert. “Regenerative Cities.” World Future Council. October 2010. PDF File.

Hastrich, Carl, Bruce Hinds, and Ian Clarke. Evolution of Buildings in a Regenerative City. Digital image. Bouncing Ideas WordPress. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2015. <;.

World Future Council and Energy Cities. “Imagine a Regenerative City.” Future of Cities Forum. 2014. PDF File.


Copyright © Alyssa Cokinis, 2015. All rights reserved.

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