rural

On August 11, 2011, the Census Bureau released the Iowa SF1 (summary File 1) data to the public. Being the obnoxious data hound that I am, I can't resist playing around with this information to see what jumps out... In this first installment, I'm going to take a look at the statewide data aggregated to the Street Crowd (historic): This image is in the public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsStreet Crowd (historic): This image is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons"place" level - identified towns and cities. Rural residents who don't live in an incorporated town or city are not included in these numbers.

You can check out Des Moines' stats below the break.

Iowa's total population is 3,046,055 people

Of that, 2,421,895 (79.5%) have chosen to live in an incorporated town or city. There are 1,009 incorporated towns and cities identified by the Census bureau for reporting purposes. However, 140 of those towns have fewer than 100 residents.

The average population of an incorporated city in Iowa is 2,400 residents. The top quintile (highest 20% by population) averages 10,334 residents. By a factor of 1.6, more people choose to live in Des Moines than the next most populated city, Cedar Rapids.

The Top 10 Iowa Cities by total population are:

    City Population
    Des Moines 203433
    Cedar Rapids 126326
    Davenport 99685
    Sioux City 82684
    Waterloo 68406
    Iowa City 67862
    Council Bluffs 62230
    Ames 58965
    Dubuque 57637
    West Des Moines 56609

Despite having the fastest growing suburbs in the state, only one of the Des Moines area suburbs makes the top 10 in total population. In fact, only one of the top 10 most populated cities in Iowa is a suburb.

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The Town Square

27 Jul 2010

Campsite at Long Branch State ParkCampsite at Long Branch State ParkI spent a couple days camping at Long Branch State Park in Missouri this past weekend. Camping in a typical state park is about as "urban" as you can get and still be sleeping in a tent: running water, electricity, showers, and even bags of ice and firewood delivered by a friendly "host" in a golf cart! This time around, however, we opted for the slightly more secluded walk-in sites set back from a central parking lot by 50 yards or so. An easy 3 1/2 hour trip south from Des Moines, Long Branch is a gem of a State Park. As long as it doesn't storm.

But what I really want to talk about here is Bloomfield, Iowa, a town about midway between Des Moines and Macon, Missouri. Bloomfield is the Davis County seat.

The Davis County Courthouse is one of the most incredible pieces of public architecture I have seen. This Second Empire masterpiece is capable of holding its own against just about any other public building in Iowa that I can think of, save the Capitol. Here are some of the elements I believe are important about public architecture:

  1. Visual cues tell the user which building to approach. The courthouse is situated in the middle of a traditional town square. It is the tallest building in the town (perhaps in the county, excepting grain elevators). It is encircled by a ring of two-story brick commercial buildings that face the square. There is simply no question that this building is a place where important things happen.
  2. Gracious pedestrian approach. A sidewalk circles the block, with walkways that directly and understandably approach the building at its main entrance (see below). Old growth trees provide cover for pedestrians and frame views of the building itself.
  3. Understandable and well-marked entry to the building. A grand staircase clearly marks the entrance to this building. From any vantage point, the entry process is clear (assuming, of course that it hasn't been compromised by security procedures that force people to use an obscured entrance).


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Clearly, this courthouse was built as a monument to the law. It must have been a massive public undertaking, though it cost only $45,000 and change at the time to construct. As public architecture, the traditional town square really cannot be improved upon. It truly serves as the heart of the community. It is a stately anachronism that has thrived in an era of budget cuts and anonymous public buildings.

According to the online history of the courthouse this building was conceived as just such a place. At his Fourth of July address on the public square in Bloomfield, July 4, 1876, Colonel S.A. Moore said, "A new and brighter era of peace and prosperity is dawning upon the nation, that ere long will throw the full tide of its glory upon a united people; and in view of this coming prosperity, Davis county will erect a public building that will do honor to the present and future generations."

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Particularly in older Midwestern towns and cities, it is not uncommon to find rural anachronisms in the middle of otherwise urban settings.

East Grand Feed Mill Aerial Photo: Aerial photo of feed mill on East GrandEast Grand Feed Mill Aerial Photo: Aerial photo of feed mill on East Grand

Note that this facility is located in a residential neighborhood, where the train tracks cut through. The grain elevator was constructed in the early 1900s, as were most of the surrounding homes. It seems reasonable to believe that employees of the feed mill were able to live nearby and walk to work.

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