116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Sandi Fowler is the assistant city manager in Cedar Rapids.
What has been your role in the Blue Zones effort in Cedar Rapids?
The city has changed its role to a much more hands-on role (after becoming a certified Blue Zones community). My specific role is to serve as staff liaison to the well-being advisory committee. I'll make sure we have the appropriate staff in place to support the work of the committee.
Cedar Rapids was designated a Blue Zones demonstration site in 2013 along with several other cities. Some of those cities were certified before Cedar Rapids while others have yet to be certified. Why was Cedar Rapids certified as a Blue Zones community when it was?
We are the largest city to ever become a Blue Zones certified community (in Iowa). Marion, about 30,000 to our 130,000 (residents), was able to do it in a little over a year and half or so.
Most communities were given a number of years given their size. Spencer, Iowa with 3,000 or 2,000 was expected to achieve certification in a much faster time.
Cedar Rapids, they told us the reason we didn't get the demonstration site status in that first year, 2012, when the first round was announced, and we were very disappointed, was because they didn't think they could take on a city this size. It was a very very infant project and a demonstration site is just that. Frankly 20 percent of our population taking a pledge was a big thing to bite off.
How much has the city invested to become Blue Zones certified?
We asked the city council for $10,000 a year for three years, and we increased that to $25,000 per year for three years. I asked for that same amount in the upcoming budget. So that $25,000 is what we've targeted. We've never spent that much but we absolutely wanted to show the city's commitment for this project and full support.
The city provided a lease for office space for the Blue Zones project we've kept them in throughout, and parking downtown. There's a number of community businesses that have provided private sponsorship dollars. Linn County and Linn County Public Health were large sponsors. We gave funds because we know people see that as a true, solid commitment for the initiative.
We also always had a dozen staff members across the city every day throughout the three-year project who were committed to supporting the efforts of Blue Zones because they so closely aligned with what we were working on before and the Blue Zones Project gave us the boost we needed.
How do you keep the Blue Zones momentum going after certification?
We looked at lots of ways to do it. As the organization of Cedar Rapids Blue Zones project, we decided to have this well-being advisory committee created within the city of Cedar Rapids that gives it a level of permanency.
Cities are forever, so we are going to be around. We wanted the effort to continue to be sustained. It is difficult to sustain a completely community lead effort.
City council approved this committee. From a staffing standpoint, we'd like to staff an intern position to sustain this effort through the end of September. The charge I have with the city manager between now and then is to figure out what is our long term plan.
We wanted to get the well-being advisory committee in place, get them working in this new environment and then work to a more long term sustainable staffing plan.
We fully expect to need a full-time position to sustain this effort. We think you need someone every day. We expect that will require not just city resources, we expect to need support of community groups to sustain that.