‘Lessons from Sustainable Dubuque’


In 1984, the city of Dubuque had an unemployment rate of 23 percent and seemed to be at risk of becoming a ghost town.  Today, the city has been nationally and internationally recognized for demonstrating its sustainability while enhancing the landscape, managing its architectural and cultural heritage, implementing environmental practices, healthy lifestyles, and planning for the future.

How did they do it?

Much of this effort was coordinated by a partnership between city government, business, non-profits and citizens’ groups that is called Sustainable Dubuque.  Michelle (“Shell”) Balek, OSF worked as an integral member of the Sustainable Dubuque team.  She will share insights on her experience as part of the Sustainable Clinton series with a presentation entitled “Lessons from Sustainable Dubuque.”  The free, public program will be presented on Sunday, March 18th from 2 until 3 P.M. at The Canticle, home of the Sisters of St. Francis, 841 Thirteenth Avenue North in Clinton.

Balek is a Dubuque Franciscan.  She holds a BA in Sociology/Social Work from Clarke University and a MA in Sustainable Development with a concentration in Community Development and Social Action Training from World Learning – the School for International Training Institute in Brattleboro, VT.  She has served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and in the Iowa Department of Social Services, as well as Catholic Charities in Texas and Iowa.  Her experience also includes positions with Pax Christi USA and Franciscans International.  She currently serves as a Program Coordinator for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.


“Part of the success strategy for Dubuque,” says Balek, “was the adoption of 11 Sustainable Principles; these principles have served to guide government, business, non-profit, and individual actions in Dubuque.”

“The principles,” she explains, “cover green buildings, healthy local food, community knowledge, reasonable mobility, healthy air, clean water, native plants and animals, regional economy, smart energy use, smart resource use and community design.”

Sustainable Dubuque grew out of the Dubuque City Council’s 2006 annual goal setting sessions, at which it was identified as a top priority.  Subsequently, the city created a Sustainable City Task Force, which included representatives from throughout the community and laid the groundwork for the initiative.  The task force eventually developed a vision statement and a sustainability model that focuses on creating policies and programs to address three key elements: economic prosperity, environmental integrity, and social/cultural vibrancy.  This sustainability model is used throughout the city, from its year-round farmers’ market to a partnership with IBM on the Smarter Sustainable Dubuque program.

Some of the green initiatives that have been implemented include:

  • Curb-side food scrap recycling
  • 11 certified public and private Green Vision schools
  • LED traffic and street lights
  • Hybrid and flex fuel vehicle fleet policies
  • Zero-waste Special Events program
  • Five Farmers’ Markets, including one year-round organization
  • Redevelopment policies that include up to 80% re-use materials

“The Sustainability model that we’re creating in the city of Dubuque is really one that can be replicated, I think, in any city under 200,000,” says Dubuque mayor Roy Buol.  “We knew as a community that we’d have to come together, do things differently to make Dubuque a successful place where people would not only want to stay but to move to.”  He points out, “Cities that get out in front on sustainability will have competitive economic advantages in the future.”

The Sustainable Clinton organization was initiated by the Sisters of St. Francis and unites concerned community members in taking action to make the Clinton area a more environmentally viable place to live.

For details on this event, call the Sisters of St. Francis at 563-242-7611 or visit ww.ClintonFranciscans.com.

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