Regional Surveys

Click here to view the Iowa River Corridor Book (PDF).

Since 1994 Free River Press has focused much of its energy in promulgating the idea of regionalism and initiating regional development projects. In 1994 Free River Press executive director Robert Wolf won a Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his radio editorial, "Developing Regional Rural Economies." In 1997, Free River Press initiated and completed its first regional survey, The Northeast Iowa Book, a four-county project, funded by three local colleges. Its second project, the Iowa River Corridor Book, was a six-county survey for central Iowa co-sponsored by Free River Press, Grinnnell College, and the Iowa Valley RC&D.

These regional surveys lay the groundwork for greater economic self-sufficiency and can be adapted to cities. Through photos, essays, and statistical data, they create a common sense of place that is intended to help neighborhoods, towns, or counties see that the solution to their common problems lies in coordinated effort.

In keeping with the spirit of cooperation, the books are created by teams of residents, students and adults. Students are included because youngsters can often be the means by which to draw adults into community development projects.

The regional surveys have three parts, each of which is intended to create a common sense of place. The first is a photo essay on the region, produced by a photography team composed entirely of students and supervised by a professional photographer.

The second part consists of a series of essays and stories on the region's ecology and history, written by adults and students with the participation of area schools and colleges. These are developed in writing workshops.

The third part includes an inventory of assets within each function of the economy and culture, such as transportation, housing, and health care, and an evaluation of the needs within each function. This survey of assets and needs is developed by adults in study groups, in conjunction with local economic developers. The first part of the survey, the list of the region's assets, along with demographic and other statistical studies, is developed by Free River Press in consultation with area economic developers and local universities. At the same time, area residents working in teams create lists of needs within each facet of the economy. The needs list provides the basis for subsequent regional development work.

Every regional survey must be followed by an intense public information campaign, including public readings from the book and radio interviews with the writers to make residents aware of the book's existence and purpose. Free River Press suggests that thousands of copies of the book be distributed free of charge throughout the region.

Afterwards the stage is set to begin creating the needed tools, such as revolving loan funds, greenhouses, and specific industries, that were cited in the needs assessment. This stage of the process should involve design professionals working together with teams of residents.