Ames Historical Society sponsors Sustainable Dubuque presentation

Emelie Knobloch

Laura Carstens, planning services manager for the city of Dubuque, says that downtown revitalization is key to restoring a community.

Carstens presented “Old is the New Green: Preservation + Sustainability” in Dubuque City Council Chambers on Monday, Oct. 14.

The event was sponsored by the Ames Historical Society, the Ames Smart Growth Alliance, Preservation Iowa and the Historic Preservation Commission

“Leadership and commitment at the top is so important,” Carstens said. “We understand that we need to think beyond our boarders because things are changing. We can’t stay the same and be successful.”

The lecture was the fourth part in a series of public lectures to raise awareness about the importance of historic preservation. All lectures are free and open to the public.

“We are going past the buildings into the healthiness of the households,” Carstens said. 

The Historic Preservation Commission reviews applications for new construction within historic districts and changes to the exterior of proposed of designated landmarks and structure.

“We had over 1,000,000 square feet of vacant space,” Carstens said. “With this space, we have started working on a plan to create 732 housing units as well as many other things in the plan.”

Dubuque’s sustainability partnerships were featured in a national league of cities report.

“Downtown revitalization is the No. 1 economic development asset,” Carstens said. “It is the identity of our community. We capitalize on history and culture.”

With degrees in both environmental studies and environmental planning, Carstens shared insights about the Dubuque approach to historic preservation and sustainability.

“The most important parts of revitalizing Dubuque are people, planning and partnerships,” Carstens said.

Carstens is a member of the American Planning Association and serves on the board of directors for Preservation Iowa, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for historic preservation.

“We renovated an old fire station into a head start program on the lower floor and a community health center on the ground floor,” Carstens said.

Carstens has been Dubuque’s Planning Service Manager since 1989. In this time period, she has overseen a major overhaul of Dubuque’s historic preservation code and creation of a capital improvement program for historic preservation.

“We also took an industrial building full of car parts and turned it into income-based apartments,” Carstens said.

What Dubuque achieved today through its Sustainable Dubuque model is the direct result of the knowledge and understanding that sustainability is a balanced approach to long-term life quality according to the “Sustainable Dubuque” program.

The Historic Preservation Commission also provides information to owners of historic properties, boards, commissions and the Ames City Council on matters affecting historically and architecturally significant properties, structures and areas.

“Buildings have more uses than to be torn down and put into a landfill,” said Sharon Wirth, chairwoman for the Historic Preservation Commission.

The city of Ames’ Historic Preservation Commission meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month.