‘An Evening at the Ecopolis’ presents optimistic vision for Iowa City

Evening at the Ecopolis
Jeff Biggers’ Evening at the Ecopolis described an Iowa City that would be at the forefront of the environmental movement. — photo by Miriam Alarcon Avila

What will Iowa City look like a few decades from now?

Jeff Biggers, the UI Office of Sustainability’s writer in residence, suggests that it’s not the dystopian climate narrative you might expect: Unbreathable air, food deserts and cars crammed onto highways are not part of the picture.

Instead, he envisions Iowa City full of walkable and vibrant neighborhoods, milkweed to bring back the butterflies, high-tech architecture, easy public transportation, solar power, personal connections to nature and organic urban agriculture.

On Tuesday at the Iowa City Public Library, Bigger presented his vision in a performance titled An Evening at the Ecopolis: Rethinking Iowa City, Regenerating Food, Energy, Trees and the Way We Get Around with live music by local folk group Awful Purdies.

Awful Purdies
Live music by the Awful Purdies supplemented Biggers’ narrative. — photo by Miriam Alarcon Avila

Biggers’ fictional narrative chronicles Iowa City’s evolution into an Eco Eden of the Heartland. It starts when an environmental catastrophe — yet another 500-year flood — finally spurs the people of Iowa City into action. Recognizing that merely “sustaining” the current way of life is not enough, the town transforms its linear “take-make-waste” paradigm into a circular “regenerative” paradigm, where waste does not exist and where the air, soil and water are healed.

The result is an “ecopolis” with mandatory renewable energy, trams, environmental sculptures and hoop gardens. In Biggers’ fictional tale, Iowa City is placed at the forefront of the environmental movement, attracting visitors and new residents, and setting the standard for the rest of the country.

“Small cities will make the difference now,” Biggers said. “We can’t rely on the federal government.”

In addition to combining fiction with personal anecdotes, statistics, historical information and current efforts by members of the community, the narrative also gives real-world examples of other cities that are spearheading the regenerative cities movement, showing that this isn’t just a half-baked utopian dream. Adelaide, Australia, for example, planted 3 million trees over the course of a few years to sequester CO2. And Oakland, Calif., initiated a zero waste plan in 2006.

Throughout the event, Biggers’ message to Iowa City was clear: Options to become a regenerative city abound, we just need to make it happen. And not just the politicians, urban planners and scientists, but all of us.

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