9 Ways to Celebrate Bike Month

9 Ways to Celebrate Bike Month

May is one of the best months of the year. The weather is warming, the Earth is full of happy green trees and colorful buds, and it's Bike Month! For the past several years the Des Moines Bike Collective has done an amazing job celebrating weekend trail riders, daily commuters, distance rollers and lovers of all things bikes here in Central Iowa. Here are ten ways you can join in on Bike Month fun! 

12 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day in Central Iowa

For Urban Ambassadors members, April is not only a time to celebrate warmer weather and more daylight. It’s a time to celebrate the Earth, participate in projects that support and protect our planet and learn new ways to live a sustainable life. Here are ten fun ways to celebrate Earth month, make new friends and grow your community!


1. Downtown Earth Day Tour

Take a walk or ride a bike between the Science Center of Iowa, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, and the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates to learn about science and conservation in Iowa and throughout the Universe! Take a tour of a LEED-certified building, meet NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, and participate in a collective art project using botanical and natural materials! This is a great event for kids. Learn more here.

2. Volunteer for a Trail Restoration

Organize a short weekend road trip and join volunteers from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to do important restoration work on the Wabash Trace Nature Trail. The trail is 63 miles of crushed limestone that runs from Council Bluffs down to Blanchard. There are two four hour volunteer shifts available. Learn more here.

3. Trash Bash

This year Iowa’s largest Earth Day event is focusing on what we can do to create a more sustainable community. Join more than 1,200 volunteers to remove tens of thousands of pounds of trash from the city of Des Moines. Register your volunteer team here.

4. Register for Bike to Work Month

Tune up your bike and prepare to ride for Bike to Work Month in May! Sponsored by the Des Moines Bicycle Collective, Bike Month is meant for anyone who loves to ride bikes in Central Iowa. Whether you’re a weekend trail rider or a daily bike commuter, Bike Month brings together bike enthusiasts of all experience levels to celebrate the ride! Learn more here.

5. Learn How to Support Environmental Legislation

Check out resources from the Iowa Environmental CouncilIowa Policy Project, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, or any of these other great organizations who are working to improve environmental legislation and policy in Iowa. Become an informed voter and make sure your voter registration is up to date!

6. Start a Garden

Whether it’s in the window of your apartment or a quarter of an acre in your backyard, April is a great time to start a garden and grow at least one new thing this summer. Learn more about planting flowers and grasses that benefit native butterflies and bees and register your garden with Plant.Grow.Fly

7. Learn About Water Conservation in Iowa 

Visit the Blank Park Zoo to hear about Iowa Conservationist James Pease's lifelong work for water conservation in Iowa. Pease has paddled 1,400 miles of Iowa’s rivers conducting surveys and will provide a unique perspective on Iowa’s waters. The final seminar in the Blank Park Zoo’s Wildlife Conservation Series is Thursday, April 7 at 6 P.M. Buy tickets here.

8. Post in the Urban Ambassadors Facebook Group 

Whether it’s an event we missed or something you want to organize on your own, post it in the Urban Ambassadors Facebook group! This is a great way to make new friends who care about protecting Iowa’s natural resources, just like you. Not part of the group yet? Join here.

9. Start a Seed Project

Have a great idea from an environmental project that’s not in Des Moines yet? Register a Seed Project at our website and find community members to help you make your dream a reality.

10. Attend our Monthly Meetup on Solar Power

This month's meetup will be on April 12 at Smokey Row from 6:00-7:30 p.m. Tim Kruse, owner of Green Light Renewable Services, is a master electrician with 20+ years of experience. He will share his vast knowledge on the different types of solar panels available for your home or business, the installation process, and also the incentives available at the state or federal level. Check out their website for a great list of reasons to consider solar for your home.

11. Attend City Council Meeting about Making Des Moines Carbon-Neutral

A group of organizations (and passionate youth involved in iMatter) are working together to make Des Moines carbon neutral by 2040. By attending the City Council meeting on April 25, the goal is to encourage City Council to create a citizens' task force with youth representation that provides input on how to get to net zero. Join the group from 4:30-6:00 p.m. at City Hall in downtown Des Moines. 

12. Join the Green Runners Group

Green running is a way to better yourself and your community. It is the act of running with a purpose: to make the world a greener place. Runners and walkers of all shapes, sizes and abilities meet in one place to get a workout and make an impact on the earth by picking up the garbage that litters our communities. Join them on April 22 at 6:00 p.m. at Los Laureles.  

We need your help in planting the seeds of sustainability in the Des Moines area.

Are you willing to help set the direction of Urban Ambassadors while we are evaluating and defining our role in the world of sustainability? We are seeking passionate and motivated individuals to join one of the two following committees. Your vision and expertise can help us ensure we are planting the correct seeds where they will grow the best.  

Personal Pathway Committee members will evaluate and define the ‘Focus Areas’ of sustainability that are the guiding principles of Urban Ambassadors. This will be done by evaluating current focus areas and determining their definitions. Resource tools and workshops/events will be created to facilitate these ‘Focus Area’ guidelines for fellow Ambassadors. Strategies will then be formed to hold individuals accountable when pursuing their steps toward their personal sustainable goals. This committee work will be used to recommend to the Board of Directors and will greatly assist Urban Ambassadors in moving the organization to the next level. We ask for a one-year commitment, volunteering an estimate of 7-10 hours/month.

Seed Project Committee members will evaluate and define the Seed Project process for Urban Ambassadors. Seed Project Committee members will help oversee everything from idea submission from an individual or group to helping make connections to make the project a success. This committee work will be used to recommend to the Board of Directors and will greatly assist Urban Ambassadors in moving the organization to the next level. We ask for a one-year commitment, volunteering an estimate of 7-10 hours/month.

If you are interested in joining either of these committees please email us at info@urbanambassdors.org with your interest.

Sustainable Sweethearts Recap 2016


Urban Ambassadors celebrated sustainable friendships at the second annual Sustainable Sweethearts at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden last Friday. DJ Wolf Pack from Harding Middle School cranked out some tunes, Fresh Café and Market served up some wheatgrass lemonade and vegan desserts, and a photo booth brought new friends and old friends together. Check out the full album here!



At our FRIEND(raiser) this September we launched the Seed Project Tool, an online platform for planning a sustainability project in Des Moines. For the past few months we have been reviewing some of the great projects people have submitted and discussing how to help build connections for anyone interested in starting a project.

One seed project we collected that is now organizing a team is the Empty Bowls project, which UA Member Ash Bruxvoort introduced to the crowd at Sustainable Sweethearts.

“Iowa is the third most product ag state, yet 1 in 8 people in Iowa are food insecure. That is shocking. Empty Bowls is an opportunity for us to come together as a community of artists, farmers, and eaters, to raise money and awareness for a local hunger organization. Admission to the event is the purchase of a bowl made by a local artist, which the attendee chooses themselves, and we will serve a simple, local, vegetarian meal.

Ash has organized a follow-up meeting for anyone interested in learning more about the project. You can find the Facebook event here or learn more about the developing project at the Seed Project page.


UA is all about making connections with like-minded people and making Des Moines a better place to live. To new connections we had a short networking event where we shared our sustainability challenges and goals. 

We try to foster community all year, not just at our four annual events like Sustainable Sweethearts. At the event we launched two new ways to connect with each other. One is the sustainable directory, which is an online directory where individuals or businesses can submit their information and the expertise they hold in a specific area. Consider this our seed project that we kicked off at Sustainable Sweethearts! We hope you share these links with individuals or businesses who offer value to those interested in sustainability projects.

Another way to connect with fellow UA members and sustainability experts is through our Facebook group. This is a place to let each other know what we’re working on and to make friends. Are you planning a hiking trip? Post an event in the Facebook group and invite others to join you! Looking for volunteers for your community garden or Seed Project? This is a great place to share that information too. 


UA is so thankful for your contribution, large or small. We hope you stay connected to all the things we have going on in 2016. 

Written by: Ash Bruxvoort 

UA Board Position Opens in January

We are excited to announce a call for a new board member at Urban Ambassadors. Having served three years on the board, current president Bethany Wilcoxon will transition off the board in January 2016.  With the completion of a term comes the opportunity to add new ideas, talent, and leadership to the organization. Are you or someone you know interested in helping shape the future of sustainability in Des Moines?


Board members are critical in helping UA grow and sustain its current operations to serve the community and to envision and guide the community to its next chapter. We hope you'll consider joining or perhaps refer an interested community member to join the board in January 2016.

February meetup features follow-up discussion from Sustainable Sweethearts

After nearly 150 people attended Sustainable Sweethearts Feb. 6, February's meet-up Tuesday at the Scenic Route Bakery was all about looking through great new project ideas submitted by the community.

Momentum is building for an annual Seed Project workshop Urban Ambassadors will hold on March 3 at DART Central Station. All of the project leaders who submitted ideas at Sustainable Sweethearts (along with anyone else who'd like to come) are invited to the workshop on launching your community project idea coming up next month.

Here are some updates on projects members of the UA community are talking about.  Need help contacting one of these project leaders?  E-mail info@urbanambassadors.org and we'll connect you.

Tiny House built by Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity

The Tiny House is currently on display at the Des Moines Home & Garden Show.  Members of UA are planning to visit it as a group Sunday, February 15, at 1:00 pm.

Creating a community orchard with Forest Avenue Outreach

The Forest Ave Community Orchard Project monthly planning meeting will be this Monday 2/16 at 6:00 pm.  The are meeting at St Vincent de Paul Thrift Store (1426 6th Ave.  DSM 50314) in the Education Room on the 2nd Floor.  This meeting is open to all who want to participate or simply observe.  It's not too late to join this team as they unite to "Forge a Jewel in the Crown of Des Moines"  You can access a meeting agenda here.

Creating a framework for sustainable event management in Des Moines

James Bruton, production manager of the Des Moines Arts Festival, stopped by to share his efforts to make that major downtown event more sustainable, from charting out where waste goes to re-evaluating how the festival's stages manage electricity and beyond.

Announcements about events coming up

In addition to the project discussion, Lee Wagner stopped by to deliver an update on this year's St. Patrick's Day Parade, in which UA friends will march for a second year.  Last year's event proved to be a fun way for members of the "green" community to march in the city's green parade.  We thought it just seemed proper somehow, and indeed with the good energy from the crowd along the street, we're excited to return again for a second year to prove we're "as green as the Irish."

We are excited to promote a Pop Up Film Festival at HoQ, one of our favorite “real food” restaurants in Des Moines. The Real Food Media Project, is a collaboration among some of the nation’s leading food and farming organizations joining together to help spread the story of our food. The event will take place from 2-4 PM on Sunday, February 22nd  at 303 East 5th Street, Des Moines.  The event is free with a cash bar. Please sign up to let us know if you plan to come.  

Finally, Food Corps friends Marlie and Chelsea stopped by to let us know about their 2nd annual "It's almost spring meeting" which brings together members of school, community, and faith based garden for a morning of networking, resource sharing, and garden planning for the 2015 growing season.  UA's own Greg Van Den Berghe will present a session on seed saving.  The event takes place at Hiatt Middle School, 1214 E. 15th Street, Saturday, Feb. 28 from 9-noon. It's free to attend.

Public forum focuses on need for pragmatism in local historic preservation

Historic preservation has been making headlines in Des Moines recently, and it was those newsy issues of demolition of historic structures on Walnut Street by insurance company EMC and the potential redevelopment of the Riverfront YMCA that dominated a conversation about historic preservation sponsored by the Des Moines Register and Des Moines Rehabbers Club Tuesday night. 

Recognizing the relationship between historic preservation and creating vibrant, walkable neighborhoods in the central city, Urban Ambassadors chose to combine its monthly meetup with the forum to support discussion of these important issues. The Register's Joel Aschbrenner moderated the discussion, and panelists included developer Jake Christensen, City Councilor Christine Hensley, state historic preservation official Steve King, and preservation advocate Jack Porter. 


It was Councilor Hensley who perhaps broke the most significant news of the night, suggesting a proposed city ordinance delaying the demolition of buildings constructed more than 80 years ago (up from 50 years as originally proposed) could come before the City Council yet this year.  The waiting period would require demolition of historic buildings to be halted for 10 days so that historic preservation experts could document and consider the significance of a building.  The decision to demolish the building would remain in the hands of its owner.

The panel took on the issue of what should qualify a building as historic, which in most cases requires the building be older than 50 years, be of a notable architectural style, or be connected with a significant person or event.  But panelist Jack Porter suggested the city should go further, also considering the "net gain" from a new construction project that requires replacing an old building.

Developer Jake Christensen, responsible for a variety of new construction and historic preservation projects in the city, applied that logic to the demolition of 3 historic buildings along Walnut Street to make way for a new multi-purpose EMC insurance facility planned to include a data center and wellness center.  He said considering the "overwhelming economic impact of EMC as an employer" and the company's need to attract and maintain its workforce, the decision to construct the new building on the site was "compelling" even as he appreciated the buildings that were on the site.

Councilor Hensley agreed, noting that the city sought "balance" on its historic preservation action and that she generally favored leaving decisions about the fate of buildings to their owners.

The conversation took place in a larger context in which, as one audience member pointed out, most of the region's historic buildings are in Des Moines, and therefore costs of historic preservation affect the economic competitiveness of the city relative to its suburbs.

"Stewardship is the key word here," said panelist Steve King, after pointing out the many tradeoffs related to developing site like the downtown YMCA.  He said even as an architect trained in historic preservation, some of the renovations he might propose for the YMCA building could change it enough to make it ineligible for historic preservation tax credits, which are often critical to helping historic buildings survive redevelopment.

King made the larger point that he felt advocates of historic preservation need to spread the word that with an urbanizing Iowa population, redeveloping urban core buildings is more attractive than continued sprawl.

Those interested in historic preservation have many opportunities to remain involved in this discussion.  Two organizations, the Des Moines Rehabbers Club and the Des Moines Historical Society are actively working in education and advocacy on these issues.

In UA news, several new ideas for community building projects came up after the discussion, which included conversation about the Community Orchard meeting next Tuesday, the 18th.  Urban Ambassadors meet ups are held the second Tuesday of each month, and recently the organization has taken a series of field trips to events or locations related to sustainability issues in the community.

Public disclosure:  The author of this blog post, Matt Hauge, is employed by Community Housing Initiatives, a non-profit affordable housing developer that is working with Jake Christensen's development company on a project to renovate the historic Dilley Manufacturing Building in the East Village.