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The Tomorrow Plan: Des Moines, Iowa’s Attempt at Regiona...

The Tomorrow Plan: Des Moines, Iowa’s Attempt at Regional Planning

In 2011, the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) initiated an attempt at regional planning for the Greater Des Moines area, the goal being to coordinate planning efforts among municipalities in order to promote sustainability in the region. This project is known as the Tomorrow Plan, a title that looks to the future. While this

In 2011, the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) initiated an attempt at regional planning for the Greater Des Moines area, the goal being to coordinate planning efforts among municipalities in order to promote sustainability in the region. This project is known as the Tomorrow Plan, a title that looks to the future. While this substantial effort was generally successful in garnering support from the cities and counties within the region, residents have been disappointed in the implementation of the plan thus far.

City of Des Moines, Iowa

The Tomorrow Plan is meant to encourage people to consider their needs from a regional perspective instead of just within the context of their own city. When municipalities coordinate their plans with surrounding municipalities, the region as a whole becomes more economically and environmentally sustainable. The population of Iowa is expected to grow by 250,000 people by 2050, and the best way to accommodate this growth is a cooperative planning effort among the cities and counties that will bear the brunt of this growth. The Tomorrow Plan has the support of 17 cities in 4 counties in the Greater Des Moines Area. The plan was created in five stages, the last of which was completed in 2013. Some objectives of the Tomorrow Plan include the “creation of regional transportation, housing, water, and air quality plans,” “decreased per capita Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and transportation related emissions for the region,” and “decreased overall combined housing and transportation costs per household.”

With the initial planning stage complete, residents reasonably expect to begin seeing the plan put into action. However, municipalities seem slow to commit resources to the Tomorrow Plan. For instance, the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization failed to increase the budget allocation for public transportation, instead allocating the majority of the budget to automobile infrastructure. This was in spite of the fact that Des Moines residents identified public transportation improvement as a top five priority, according to a survey administered by the Des Moines MPO. Respondents were in support of increasing the budget for public transportation, and one of the Tomorrow Plan’s key objectives was to reduce car dependence.  However, the Des Moines MPO still fails to see public transportation as a priority when it comes down to actually allocating funds.

Des Moines, Iowa bus stop

Municipalities have also been slow to carry out the Tomorrow Plan’s objective of decreasing housing and transportation costs. As discussed in my last blog, the city of West Des Moines has been resistant to the development of affordable housing within the city, even though many service sector employees who work at West Des Moines’ Jordan Creek Mall are forced to find housing in Des Moines proper, thus increasing their transportation costs.

The region has set lofty goals for itself in the spirit of cooperation. While creating the Tomorrow Plan is a big step in the right direction, its existence means little if the municipalities involved cannot actually bring themselves to carry out those goals.

Does your city participate and cooperate with regional planning efforts? Share your city's stories in the comments below.

Credits: Images by Molly Carpenter. Data linked to sources.

Intern photo

Molly Carpenter is an undergraduate student at Iowa State University, studying community and regional planning with a minor in English. She is a violin teacher and a writer, and is currently working as a GIS technician for the Iowa State University I...

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