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The Chauncey Development Construction Shadow Controversy in Iowa City Prompts Awareness and Conversation About Shade and Sun Protection

20130327we-thechauncey-chauncey-project-iowa-cityA recent Moen Group development project in Iowa City called The Chauncey (pictured above) has sparked some controversy because of the perception that it will block out the entire skyline and cast a shadow over the city. (See “The Sky Will Be Gone,” Press Citizen, 26 March 2013)

20130327we-iowa-coalition-against-the-shadow-235x133Anti-Shade Activists. The Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow is a group of Iowa City residents opposing The Chauncey development. As the group’s name indicates, one of the main concerns about the new building is the potential shadow from it. More about the Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow and their positions can be found online here:

Pro-Shade Advocates. The controversy over The Chauncey shadow has caused pro-shade advocates to speak out about the harmful impact of the sun’s UV rays on buildings and humans. Pro-shade advocates help raise awareness about the benefits of shade, such as reduced heating costs in summer for shaded buildings and lower risk of skin cancer.

In an effort to provide balance, fairness, and offer a variety of viewpoints, we are including the commentary below which provides an alternative to the articles linked above.

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Below, a pro-shade advocate and supporter of The Chauncey project speaks out in favor of The Chauncey, but only with the promise of anonymity.

A Pro-Shade Advocate Speaks Out

It seems to me that the anti-shadow/anti-shade group is somewhat irrational with regard to their basis for criticizing development projects. That’s why I’m only willing to speak out anonymously about this issue. I don’t want to become the next target of their rage. Here are some of my observations:

Positive Urban Planner Reaction. The Moen Group projects are receiving positive attention from city planners elsewhere in the country who wish to emulate their creative designs and positive impact. Those who have actually studied the latest innovations in progressive and positive urban planning and development see the Moen Group projects as being examples of best practices.

Shadow Concern is Misguided. The location and size of shadows from buildings and other structures changes throughout the day and throughout the year. So, the impact of shade on any specific location is for a very limited time. During the mid-day hours in the summer, with the sun overhead, little if any shadow is cast at all.

Shade From Existing Buildings Is Minimal. In the Google Satellite map below, it’s evident that only minimal shadows are cast by even the tallest 10-story buildings shown in the area around The Chauncey location. The parking ramp in the top left is barely casting enough shadow to cover half the street.

Shade Impact Assessment. The areas indicated in the map below are estimated and provided for illustrative purposes only. In the early morning, for a few hours, during the summer months, on hot sunny days, the shade may help reduce the air conditioning expenses of a church west of The Chauncey. In the afternoon, the shade will fall on a parking ramp. So, only one building is impacted by the shadow, and that impact may be positive. In addition to helping cool the otherwise hot building, this will help reduce UV damage to the roof and other exterior surfaces.


Health Hazards of Sun Exposure. The World Health Organization has cited exposure to sun as a serious threat to health, stating: “The rise in the incidence of skin cancers over the past decades is strongly related to increasingly popular outdoor activities and recreational exposure. Overexposure to sunlight is widely accepted as the underlying cause for harmful effects on the skin, eye and immune system. … Seek shade when UV rays are the most intense, but keep in mind that shade structures such as trees, umbrellas or canopies do not offer complete sun protection.” [source]

Do a Google search for images of skin cancer and you’ll be walking in the shade indefinitely.

Architectural Bigotry. Much of the criticism regarding The Chauncey is about the design and appearance of the building. Critics state that it “looks different” and “it’s not like all the other buildings.” Some state, “it just doesn’t fit in… it looks odd.” Those fearful of these differences suggest that letting one tall building in the neighborhood will just invite more of them. There’s a suspicion that those associated with tall glass buildings must be subversive or involved in something undesirable. This line of thinking is, of course, irrational and a form of architectural bigotry. We need an open, welcoming, and affirming community where a diversity attitude extends to the diversity of our visual skyline. We must stop architectural bigotry now. We cannot have a village mob running around Iowa City preventing any development they disagree with. Architectural bigotry, hatred, and intolerance has no place in Iowa City.

Property Autonomy. Property owners (private and commercial) need to have a sense of ownership and autonomy over their investments. Otherwise, what’s the point of owning land if neighbors will be dictating what you can do with it. This becomes particularly precarious with commercial property where long-term planning includes optimizing the profitability and return on an investment.

Considering the above observations, that are based on common sense, one can only conclude that the anti-shadow group is either irrational or motivated by some undisclosed agenda.


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By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com