Client: Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization

Gruen Gruen + Associates (GG+A) as part of a team lead by Sasaki Associates was engaged by the Des Moines Area MPO to develop a long-range regional plan for the Des Moines metro area. The planning effort was a part of HUD’s sustainable communities initiative. GG+A’s role in the plan was to develop long-term economic, demographic, and land use forecasts and to provide analysis and strategy concerning regional economic development, housing, and redevelopment.

In order to prepare an analysis of existing conditions and to develop baseline projections of population, households, employment, and building space and land use demands, GG+A performed the following principle tasks:

    • Analysis of relevant demographic, housing, and labor force characteristics and trends;
    • Analysis of employment change and shifts in the make-up of the economic base over time and between areas within the region, and review of secondary economic forecasts in order to: (a) derive a profile of the economic structure and employment base of the planning area; and (b) prepare forecasts of employment growth by economic sector and geographic subarea within the planning area;
    • Analysis of land use and real estate market data to help define appropriate submarkets for which to prepare the long-term housing and space demand projections;
    • Examination of retailing conditions to: (a) provide an information base on retail sales’ activity; (b) identify the degree to which retailers and commercial businesses within subareas of the planning area are capturing more or less sales than would be expected to be supported by local expenditure potential or retail demand; and to estimate the demand for future retail space; and
    • Interviews with knowledgeable members of the local land use, real estate, and economic development community and representatives of municipalities within the planning area.


To produce the baseline or “business as usual” forecast of factors that will influence future development and growth patterns in the planning area, GG+A constructed a spatially-explicit market-based land development projection model that translated future economic and demographic conditions into measures of physical development and market demand. The outputs of the baseline model were presented, by relevant geographic submarket, in terms of: (1) future housing unit demand; (2) future building space demand, by type of land use; and (3) future population, household, and employment growth. The underlying purpose of the projections and economic and market analysis completed by GG+A was to create an internally-consistent framework upon which to consider alternative futures for the region and how regional policy and investment decisions may facilitate more (or less) sustainable patterns of development when compared to a baseline scenario.

As the planning effort progressed, GG+A frequently attended public open house and steering committee gatherings. As alternative growth scenarios were considered and modeled (through use of an Urban Growth Simulation model in GIS), GG+A provided additional technical assistance and research regarding local land use policies, the physical intensity and density of various forms of development, and large-scale redevelopment opportunities within the region. GG+A also assisted the consulting team and MPO as they utilized the long-term forecasts of population, households, and employment by sector to update travel demand forecasts (at Traffic Analysis Zone levels) required for transportation funding purposes.

Following the technical analysis and research, GG+A contributed to the development of an online interactive public outreach tool. By analyzing conditions and patterns relating to components of the regional system – such as school funding, tax increment financing, and provision of major recreational and cultural amenities – GG+A helped to prepare the foundation for the tool that allowed planning area residents to articulate what trade-off decisions they would elect to make and why (as it regarded the cost of implementing various plan alternatives).

GG+A also prepared two extensive “best practices” reports that addressed conditions, challenges, opportunities, and policies related to sustainable regional economic development and the provision of affordable housing. GG+A continues to work with the consulting team to identify and develop final recommendations and goals and strategies for the regional plan.