Showing posts from May, 2013

CR flood "Five Years Out"

The University of Iowa Public Policy Center held an excellent symposium in Cedar Rapids today, examining progress and future policy challenges five years after Cedar Rapids's historic flood. The symposium was held at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library south of downtown; the museum has been moved to higher ground since 2008, having been worked over quite destructively by the flood waters. Meanwhile, record spring rains have brought the river to the brink of flooding again. [Here's my wife Jane's report on the situation as of this afternoon.)

 Any number of commenters find this ironic; I would say it was going to happen sooner or later, and probably introduced a sobering element to the discussions.

There were four panels, a keynote speech and a delicious lunch. The panels started with science, and moved gradually towards a focus on public policy.

 A lot of the policy discussions dealt with the need to change agricultural practices, with not as much as I'd …


The independent film "Detropia" is available at the PBS website until June 17. It is co-directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. "Detropia" is a disturbing look at the troubled city of Detroit that tries to end on some hopeful notes (the people we meet are resilient, the auto industry has added some jobs, there are opportunities for artists to live and work in really cheap space). A question repeatedly raised in the film, though, is whether the tribulations of Detroit are harbingers for other parts of America. To be sure, there are echoes of Detroit, albeit on much smaller communities, in farm towns across the country. Yet Detroit is in many ways unique among American cities: its quantum growth from 1930-1960 was driven by a single industry, and today it has an unusually low percentage of college graduates (though Cleveland is close). Even so, as the poster child for the twin demons of suburban sprawl and urban poverty, Detroit's experience raises difficult qu…

What's the matter with Congress?

I'm teaching the American Congress course this fall; in the past I've emphasized organization of the institution and how public policy is made in conjunction with the other branches. Lately, though, Congress has been so prominently dysfunctional I've decided to reorient the course to address that.
Dysfunction is easy to define but hard to measure. It's not like Congress was wildly popular or being widely praised prior to the last few years. Ralph Nader was calling Congress "the broken branch" of government as long ago as the 1970s, and it was at the end of that decade that Glenn R. Parker and Roger H. Davidson published their famous Legislative Studies Quarterly article, "Why Do Americans Love Their Congressmen So Much More Than Congress?" And it was more than 20 years ago that I wrote an ill-considered op-ed piece for the Cedar Rapids Gazette arguing for a parliamentary system of government because Congress and the President seemed unable to resol…

Filling in an empty quarter

Earlier posts testify to my attachment to downtown Cedar Rapids (or downtown anywhere, for that matter). But in the nearly 25 years that I've lived here, downtown development has faced a huge handicap. It is surrounded on all sides by dead zones, which despite a few contributing businesses exhibit no signs of civic life. This makes downtown an island, with some attractions and employers but unable to draw continually on the city for the stuff of life.

To the northwest, downtown is blocked by the large factories of Cargill and Quaker Oats, the interstate highway, and A Avenue, which was quite the urban boulevard back in the day but is now essentially a service road. To the southwest, across the river, the 2008 flood wrought a great deal of destruction, but even before then the area was underused. In a couple years the casino will go in there; I'm doubtful that will help. Southeast of downtown there's been some remarkable development in the New Bohemia area, but between the …

Security vs. urbanity?

Three summers ago my family went on an eastern vacation. We spent a day in New York City; this is Robbie's photo of the World Trade Center site.

Now, as the new World Trade Center progresses--it may not be finished until 2019--questions are arising as to how it will be connected to its surrounding neighborhood. A draft environmental impact statement this week reveals, for the first time publicly, Police Department plans for security. And they are elaborate, including guard booths and various barriers to vehicular and sidewalk traffic. Here's a rough map, from The New York Times website:

Here's what they mean by a sally port, a vehicle barrier controlled by the police from the booth:

A bollard is a vertical post that mainly controls vehicles. Here's one from the Global Industrial website, which you can buy for $51.95:

I guess their impact on pedestrians would depend on how many there were on a given stretch of sidewalk.

The conundrum New York faces is clear. On the one …

Skywalk install progress report

As the convention center nears completion, the skywalk is being installed this week. This will connect the convention center to its parking garage across 1st Av. I hope it will eventually connect to the main Skywalk System, though that would have to be done through the US Bank parking garage. (It will definitely connect to the 4th St. parkade, so in theory the Skywalk could be back to its original length, at this end anyway.)

As of this morning they are still in the "prep" stage. Here are some pictures I took before I came to work. Vantage point is the trail crossing at 4th St. (which can be for the time being made without anxiety, as 1st Av is closed for this operation)

The thing itself. A passerby remarked "it looks like they cut it a little long," but I think it has to fit into slots in the buildings.

 Wider view.

 The hole in the convention center where it will go.

Harder to see around the railroad crossing post, but this is where it goes into the parking gara…

Losing Track of What Really Matters

There's no denying it. We are living under one of the most troubled administrations of the past century.
It now appears that the Obama administration deliberately LIED to the American people about the tragic terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya last September.
And, after three years of secrecy, Barack Obama's IRS just admitted to targeting and harassing conservative grassroots groups because of their political ideology!

Scandals are dominating the news, even the elite media I patronize. The mass media must be foaming at the mouth. FOX News should probably check their blood pressure.

All of a sudden, it seems, there is a confluence of seemingly unrelated events that look bad for the Obama administration: the Justice Department snooping on phone records of Associated Press reporters, the Internal Revenue Service singling out Tea Party groups for special scrutiny, the Department of Health and Human Services soliciting health care providers for financial support for state healt…

A big ho hum

The new management of Westdale Mall rolled out their plans for redeveloping the moribund commercial space. It may work for them, but from the community perspective it's nothing special. It does nothing to make connections where they are lacking in this city, and does nothing to prepare for a future without cheap oil.

Here's the new map, from Friday's Gazette...
(Cedar Rapids Gazette, 10 May 2013, p. 1A)
... which also has an online report with pretty pictures.

This is definitely old stuff. What they're essentially going to do is rearrange the many many parking spaces, and reconfigure the stores. Beyond the parking lots, the new Westdale will be no better integrated into the city than the old one was. Westdale is an island of sorts, bordered by wide roads that bear heavy car traffic: Williams Boulevard, Edgewood Road, Wilson Avenue and 29th Avenue. It's part of a bigger swath of land from 16th Avenue to US 30 that is a hideous succession of commercial strips. To see…

Downtown semester

Spring finals are over at Coe, grades are in at least for seniors, and this weekend features the traditional commencement festivities, starting with the Department of Political Science Salute to Seniors at my house Friday night. That means starting next week I am moving back into my office.

I spent most of my sabbatical leave away from Coe, either at home--with two computers on because I have different programs on them--or, one or two days a week, downtown at the public library. The main branch of the Cedar Rapids Public Library was destroyed by the June 2008 flood, so it's in a temporary storefront location until the new branch opens August 24.
The library shrank last month when construction began on an underground parking garage. The temporary wall is on the left. Some serious crashing noises were coming from behind it today. The door in the back of the picture leads into the rest of what's left of the Armstrong Centre.

The downtown library seemed an appropriate place to thi…