ISU sustainable environments students study tornado recovery

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Iowa State University’s sustainable environments masters-level program has pledged a year’s time studying recovery and the needs of those living in impacted neighborhoods, such as this area of Woodbury Street and North Fourth Avenue.

Ask anyone who has been involved in recovery efforts following the July 2018 tornado and they would say it’s a marathon not a sprint. Iowa State University’s sustainable environments masters-level program has pledged a year’s time studying recovery and the needs of those living in impacted neighborhoods.

These efforts are being led by ISU professor Austin Stewart, who is an assistant professor of art and visual culture and an affiliate faculty member of the sustainable environments program. His students recently spent time conducting surveys at the Marshalltown Public Library, asking passersby what they need and would like to see happen in these neighborhoods.

Stewart said there are several goals for this initiative, including giving students the experience of asking questions, sparking community engagement and looking for long-term solutions.

Students also study sustainable environments through the lens of human behavior and social sustainability.

He will reveal the findings of the study to the City of Marshalltown and the Marshalltown Long-Term Family Recovery Committee at a time yet to be determined.

He said the end goal is to see if communities impacted by disasters, such as Marshalltown, have pre-existing conditions that complicate the recovery process.

“We look at economic issues and language barriers to getting people information,” he said.

Over the course of four days, the sustainable environments students spoke with about 120 people who stopped by the library. Stewart said some common themes include wanting to see more community garden space, repairs made to roads and more housing options.

“Following the tornado, the city was contacted by Iowa State University professors that were interested in doing some research and evaluation of the effects of the tornado on families and our community housing stock. There have been multiple classes looking at various categories,” Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer said. “The city’s hope is that the information and analysis completed by Iowa State University is helpful to us as we recover and helpful to other communities in the future that are impacted by disaster.”

Stewart said that while the results of their survey havn’t been tabulated yet, they plan on returning to Marshalltown several more times in the summer and fall to learn more.

“We got funding to make a year-long commitment to Marshalltown,” he said. “If you just have a semester or one class commitment to a project, it’s just a really small amount of time and the students are interested in having a prolonged interaction with a community that is within an hour of Ames.”

Stewart is currently working to help renovate Reliable Street, the former Doboy feed mill in Ames, into a gathering space.

To learn more, contact Stewart at astewart@iastate.edu.


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

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