Finding Solutions to the Mississippi River Basin’s Biggest Challenges • News Service • Iowa State University

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Ulrike Passe, Professor of
architecture

AMES, Iowa – The Mississippi River Basin faces a variety of challenges, from flooding to urban sprawl to nutrient runoff. A team of researchers will study how these issues affect the environmental conditions of cities, suburbs and rural areas – and the people who live there.

The Urban-Rural Systems Research Coordination Network, based at Iowa State University, has received a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant from the Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems program to conduct a five-year study to start.

The team is led by Ulrike PassProfessor of Architecture and leader of the Sustainable Cities Research Team at the State of Iowa.

Researchers will focus on five metro areas in the Mississippi River Basin – Minneapolis/St. Paul; Davenport; St Louis; Memphis; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana – and their satellite communities and adjacent rural areas.

The challenges include:

  • urban and suburban sprawl;
  • Separate food, power and water systems;
  • Frequent flooding and uncontrolled water runoff;
  • hospitalizations from urban heat;
  • lack of ecosystem services; and
  • effects of climate change.

These situations are common throughout the Mississippi River Basin and affect populations disproportionately at risk.

“Addressing the interconnected challenges in the basin has high potential for significant societal and sustainable impacts, as almost half of city dwellers will soon live in cities of a similar size,” Passe said. “The network’s research outcomes will support ongoing efforts to address environmental, social, health and equity issues at scale and create transferrable models to improve community health and vitality in other city networks.”

The research network will consider land policy issues affecting the urban-rural interface, including land use and zoning, urban density and area ratios, land use patterns, urban nature, urban expansion plans, building design and infrastructure, and urban ecosystems, biodiversity and climate adaptation.

Working groups will develop a comparative classification system that describes the similarities and differences between neighboring towns and rural and agricultural locations.

The researchers plan that this project will result in new regional policies and government actions that can create more resilient and sustainable environments for the people living in the Mississippi River Basin and other similar regions.

Iowa State employees include Janette Thompson, Morrill Professor of Ecology and Natural Resource Management; and Kimberly ZarecorProfessor of Architecture.

Outside collaborators include Traci BirchAssistant Professor of Architecture at Louisiana State University and Interim Executive Director of LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio; Andy KitsingerInterim Director of the University of Memphis Design Collaborative; Kristen NelsonProfessor of Forest Resources and Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation at the University of Minnesota; Karl NilonWilliam J. Rucker Professor of Natural Resources at the University of Missouri; Karl Santo, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Department Chair at the University of Memphis; and Sean PointerAssistant Professor of Forest Hydrology and Watershed Management at Lincoln University of Missouri.

This research network grew out of an initial NSF-funded workshop in the state of Iowa in 2019, which brought together academic experts and local stakeholders to discuss these challenges and consider steps forward.

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