“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
— American anthropologist Margaret Mead
To change the world, change your Self!
To learn how, read this.
Vision 3rd-Century Iowa:
Transforming the Heartland’s Social, Economic, Cultural, Political and Natural Landscapes
codified by Michael Luick-Thrams in July 2016
2046 will mark the beginning of Iowa’s third century of statehood. We want that future place to be viable, with communities that are livable—a place we consciously craft rather than fall into by default.
In 1846, the Hawkeye State was home to 80,000 people; by 1876, the number soared to 1.5 million. The people who settled our homeland were mostly young and hungry, eager to work and prove their abilities as they built dreams. They grafted a European-rooted civilization atop a virgin prairie that had been home to nomads for 10,000 years. The resultant culture yielded a hybrid of Old and New Worlds.
In its first two centuries, Iowa sought and found its place in national and, more recently, global contexts. At present, however, social, economic, cultural and political forces are eroding the state’s well-being. If such trends are not reversed, Iowa’s heyday will be behind us, not ahead of us. We cannot tolerate that.
Heartland Parties’ project committee suggests three main initial foci for turning around Iowa’s current trajectories by 2046; these are guiding objectives, offered to supporters to find the means to realize:
deepen health maintenance and expand wealth generation:
They claim this Mother Earth of ours for their own and fence their neighbors away from them. They degrade the landscape with their buildings and their waste. They compel the natural earth to produce excessively and when it fails, they force it to take medicine to produce more. This is evil.
— Sitting Bull, 1877
Health is not simply the absence of detectable disease, nor removing its manifestations from the body. Health consists of much more, of mostly intangible conditions that support the natural state of living beings: uncompromised bodily functioning. Rather than just state-of-the-art technology or medical procedures, health arises from fresh, pure air, water and food; from sustaining family and community relationships; amidst the daily rhythms of safe, sovereign and peaceable home lives, rewarding social lives and meaningful work lives. And, health stems from tangible sources of resilient diversity: vibrant topsoil, farms, forests, orchards, gardens and grasslands around us; poison-free food, water and air in us; vital social networks behind us. Mental health depends on grounded senses of well-being and hope.
All forms of health require sustainable wealth to make real vigor last. The pioneers came to America’s Heartland looking not for jobs but for wealth, for ways to transform the region’s resources (e.g., rich topsoil) into useable products (crops, livestock, lumber) or their time to serve those working the land, as: doctors, lawyers, teachers, pastors, shop keepers. Symbiotic relations kept communities in a fluid balance, where consumption did not outweigh production, nor busyness sideline rest or reflection. Wealth cannot be most accurately measured by one’s quantities of money but by qualities of well-being.
revitalize rural communities and densify urban hubs:
…the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.
— William Jennings Bryant, 1896
What made Iowa what it is—what made it rich, monetarily as well as culturally and spiritually—were its farms and small towns. The swelling urban areas we enjoy today arose long after the pioneers first settled the fertile prairies: In the Hawkeye State, abundant agriculture spawned towns, not vice-versa.
Urban Iowa (the Des Moines-Ames, Cedar Rapids-Iowa City and Waterloo-Waverly corridors; the Quad Cities, etc.) cannot flourish if rural Iowa continues to decline. In last census, 71 of Iowa’s 99 counties continued to lose population: The few not in that list thrived in comparison, or at least held their own. If we wish to turn Iowa around, we have to revive its rural areas: We need more people, now.
To succeed in drawing people to small towns and farms, we have to honestly assess what forces led folks to leave them in the first place. Jobs and ampler economic opportunities elsewhere were decisive, but not sole factors in rural flight. Newcomers want to feel welcome and accepted in a new community, not simply tolerated. And, in today’s post-industrial society, especially young people expect certain “basic” social and cultural amenities often lacking in rural areas: healthcare and recreational facilities (i.e., gyms, pools), fast internet access, vibrant libraries, schools, shops, cafés, museums, theaters, etc.
Iowa’s 100 county seats must serve as anchors in their respective counties, a dynamic means to hold their area’s inhabitants as long-term residents. By 2046, each county seat should boast the following, a:
- state-of-the-art community center, complete with a well-stocked library/technology center, with meeting rooms, a café, space for art and other exhibits or presentations and performances
- comprehensive medical center, able to respond to emergencies as well as long-term healthcare
- affordable pre-natal counseling and pre-school daycare facility
- stable and well-funded school system for both youth and after-hours adult further education
- low-cost technical and practical training; at least two-year post-secondary professional training
- year-round farmers and hand-crafted-goods market
- recycling and clean-energies (solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, etc.) coordination center
- conference if not full convention center, attached to sports and performance-arts spaces
- ample park system, connected by biking and/or hiking paths
- nature center with adjoining reserves of prairie, woods, river- or lakeside for recreation or study
Life on farms and in small towns entails intrinsic value not found in large towns or cities. While we cannot revive each of the thousand or more communities that once existed in Iowa, we must draw a line, declaring that 100 target towns will not be allowed to erode further, and that fifteen cities will be bolstered as urban hubs, offering cultural, retail, financial, service and political institutions and events typically not available at an advanced level in smaller communities. Those urban hubs should consist of:
first tier: the Des Moines-Ames, Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, Muscatine-to-Clinton, Waterloo-to-Waverly and Keokuk–to-Burlington conurbations, plus Sioux City, Council Bluffs (as a flank of Omaha);
second tier: Dubuque, Fort Dodge-Webster City, Mason City-Clear Lake, Ottumwa, Spencer-Great Lakes;
third tier: Carroll, Creston and Decorah
downsize dysfunctional alliances and expand productive partnerships:
All politics is local.
—used by Tip O’Neill
Think globally, act locally.
—attributed to Friends of the Earth
Iowa is a member of a political union—and, during the Civil War, sacrificed more soldiers to preserve that union than any other state, north or south, per capita. There’s no question that Iowa will remain in the federated United States of America. At the same time, the American federation has rarely served its members so poorly or done so little for them as at present. The perpetual deadlock cultivated by vested interests in Washington, DC, blocks solving the real and imminently dangerous problems facing us—which leaves Iowans no choice but to reduce our dependence on national directives or support, and instead shift our attention to regional and global partnerships. And, as of this writing, depending on who wins the next presidential election, the union will be led by either a woman with a selective, self-serving sense of truth or a short-fused man who acts out of raging and racist narcissism. Such flawed candidates rose to the level of the nation’s highest office due to a byzantine, opaque electoral process. They are the products of two political dinosaurs: the Democratic (founded 1828) and Republican (1854) Parties—relics of an earlier era, when the young United States was the world’s first modern democracy.
As we divest ourselves of the foulest aspects of our nation’s present disaster, we should reconsider our core values and goals, along with their historical and cultural origins. We should disengage from the most destructive of national social trends or secluded institutions. In any case, we share more cultural, social, political and geographical commonalities with our regional neighbors than, say, Americans living in tropical Florida, the inward-focused “Republic of Texas” or transient West Coast: Let us embrace that.
Short term, given an imploding national scene, realigning Iowa’s axis constitutes self-rescue. Long term, it will serve us well and best to increase trade, environmental-protection efforts, cultural programs and recreational ties with our Upper-Midwest neighbors—Minnesota, Wisconsin, both Dakotas, Nebraska—and Lower-Midwest ones: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, as well as Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. For example:
- Closer connections with regional counterparts will facilitate deepening health maintenance (e.g., securing fresher food sources, shipped shorter distances; decreasing our soil-depleting, oil-based dependence on commodities-driven national or global grain and meat exports) as well as expanding wealth generation: Creating new value-added layers to marketing Iowa-produced goods and services by tailoring them to the needs of people we better know and understand. Despite what we have been told since at least the days of the Nixon administration, we do not “need” to “feed the world:” For our own physical health and sustainable material wealth, we are best served by importing more of our foodstuffs from regional sources and exporting the same to regional markets—for example, Chicago, the Twin Cities, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, etc.
- We share biospheres (watersheds, aquafers, air, species) with our most immediate Midwest neighbors. As global weather and climate patterns shift in coming years, the need to coordinate environmental actions and safeguards will increase: We can’t solve such problems alone.
- The largest number of settlers to Iowa came from New England, the Lower Midwest or directly from Europe. We share lingual, religious, political, social and myriad additional roots with our fellow Midwesterners; our “cultural capital” would be greatly enriched by increased contact and exchanges with arts, educational and performance projects developed in other Midwest states. Expanded sports competitions among Midwest teams and curbing ones farther afield would be less consumptive of carbon-emitting fuels and other natural resources, while supporting regional economic ties and strengthening a multi-layered regional identity.
At the same time, cultural myopia enriches no one, but erodes us all. Already well connected with people, projects and institutions abroad, Iowa’s cultural scene would be enhanced by strengthened international ties. We already supply a disproportionate number of both short- and long-term teachers to international schools around the world, yet that number could be increased, as should be the number of young Iowans going abroad to study, work and live, or of young foreigners doing the same in Iowa.
Recalibrating Iowa’s focus—from Federal to regional seats of power and resources, and to even greater global connectivity—will play a key role in increasing Iowa’s population: Heartland Parties’ goal is to have 4.5 million people calling Iowa home by 2046. Added residents will come through various ways:
Tapping Iowa’s Federal presence to recast our national profile, we will encourage Iowa natives who left the state as young adults in pursuit of a career or other opportunities to return to our homeland in this era of climatic shifting, social realignment, political devolution and increased safety concerns. We will tout Iowa’s comparative low cost of living (i.e., housing) and ample supply of “classic” housing stock in many small towns (e.g., Victorian or Arts-and-Crafts gems, often awaiting loving restoration), its above-average libraries and schools, its low violent-crime rates and high rates of citizen engagement. We will highlight existing programs (for ex.) to offer new residents tax credits for rejuvenating vacant buildings or creating jobs. We will assist those seeking a quieter, safer place to live with a hand up rather than a handout in order to find it here. And, we will seek to mitigate factors which have historically led people to leave small towns, even as we encourage Iowans to show real, welcoming acceptance to newcomers.
Beyond Iowa-born returnees, we will push programs to offer—for example—European farmers who wish to liquidate operations there and replant their lives on the rich Iowa prairies. And, we will welcome small-scale and especially organic gardeners or farmers from all backgrounds. We do acknowledge our moral duty to help resettle refugees from war-torn or environmentally-ravaged lands, worldwide. We welcome all individuals and families who come to live peaceably and productively among us, even as we continue to be Heartlanders solidly anchored in our Midwest homeland, with deep global sensibilities.
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