Posts

Showing posts from September, 2013

Downtown vs. parking

Image
(The former Coventry Square Mall, across 1st Av from the convention center, is being converted to condos)
Interesting story about downtown housing developments in today's Gazette. It was based largely on an interview with Fred Timko, who has taken the lead in a number of condo projects, as well as results of a survey of attendees at an Economic Alliance Forum in May 2013.

A few takeaway points:

1. According to the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, there are about 1000 housing units in the downtown area, and 93-95 percent of these are occupied. This is much better than I'd thought, and is encouraging further development.

 2. The survey found 46 percent liked downtown's "energy, activity and nightlife," while 36 percent liked its walkability. On the other hand, 40 percent said there wasn't enough parking. Folks, this is not a coincidence. You can't have one without the other. (See Donald Shoup's The Parking Dilemma, on which I commented in July.)

Poverty and economic growth

Image
(swiped from blogs.census.gov, cited below)
Hovering around this month's kerfluffles over the budget and raising the debt limit is the state of the economy which, five years after it melted down, is in a state of slow and unsteady recovery. Forbes magazine is calling it "meek growth," which sounds spot on to me. The U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.5 percent in the 2nd quarter of 2013, the 9th straight quarter of growth (albeit a couple of those, including the 4th quarter of 2012, were downright anemic). The stock averages have been way up, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing at a record high last week before renewed concerns about what Congress might do drove prices down. But other indicators are less favorable: national income grew a mere 0.1 percent in the 2nd quarter; overall real median household income has fallen roughly 10 percent since 2007, and is as low as it's been since the mid-1990s. Unemployment remained high at 7.3 percent, and …

Downtown Decorah

Image
We were up in Decorah last weekend for Family Weekend at Luther College, where our son Robbie is a first-year student. I was interested to see that Decorah's downtown merchants had a spot on the program, and circulated a flyer to all students. That shows a degree, remarkable in my experience, of cooperation between downtown and the college.

We eschewed the program but spent a good bit of time in downtown Decorah, a thriving collection of shops mostly along Water Street. There were banks, a movie theater, and two coffeeshops, and the Oneota Community Food Cooperative, which (like the college) actively supports local producers...

...not to mention the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. The rest were restaurants (of which we patronized two) and specialty shops. But Fareway and Ace Hardware are two blocks south of Water. So a Decorah resident could get most of what they need within easy walking distance of their home. I couldn't ask more of a downtown than that.

It's easil…

Figuring out a dangerous intersection

Image
My Coe colleague Lynda Barrow called my attention to an intersection that she thinks (and I agree) is an accident waiting to happen. The intersection of 12th Street (a.k.a. Coe Road) and 1st Avenue is a product of 1970s traffic engineering aimed at moving cars through town. At that time streets on either side of campus were made one-way from 3rd Avenue SE to 32nd Street NE. (I won't identify them, not out of fastidiousness, but because the streets change names as they go along, besides which they have changed names over the years. At one time "Center Point Road" was part of both one-way streets. Directions are also hard to call in Cedar Rapids, but let's call them "northish" and "southish." 12th Street a.k.a. Coe Road is one-way southish.

12th Street funnels southish-bound traffic from the northeast side and eastish-bound traffic from I-380 and the St. Luke's Hospital Complex into 1st Avenue and around Coe's campus.
 (A Avenue feeding int…

9/11 Revisited

Image
(Aftermath of destruction, New York City 2001, from en.wikipedia.org)
This past week saw the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. I thought about the anniversary more than I usually have done, because my college's Office of Service Learning was promoting a volunteer project to commemorate it. Such a project did seem particularly appropriate, because one of my strongest memories of that awful time was the strong, mutual need to do something in response to the attacks. Of course we could never bring back those killed, but maybe we could repair the breach in humanity? People went to worship services in droves that week, and went out of their way to be nice to each other, even in traffic. Those closer to the scene could help clear it, and those closer to the levers of power could invade Afghanistan. The rest of us, for a brief time, reached out to each other in whatever ways we could. (The surge of social feeling extended to politics as well. Public approval of President G…

Their casino, our casino

Image
(The casino at Cedar Crossing, from KWWL)
Steven Shultis, who thinks about urban issues on the Rational Urbanism blog, recently appeared on the "Strong Towns" podcast to talk about a casino proposal for his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts. Shultis, seemingly to his own surprise, supports the casino, and seemed at some pains to explain why an urbanist would do such a thing. His description of the Springfield proposal has some resonance for what's coming to Cedar Rapids. He points up some advantageous aspects which the two share, but also some ways in which Cedar Rapids--despite being in far better shape than Springfield--falls far short in vision.
Springfield is a city of about 150,000 in southwestern Massachusetts. Like many northeastern cities, it has suffered from the loss of industry, and in 2011 a tornado caused extensive damage. Shultis, who lives about a block from where the casino would be built, describes the downtown as a "walkable traditional neigh…

Mayors' Bike Ride

Image
Some Labor Day in the last decade or so, the Mayor's Bike Ride was born in Cedar Rapids, as a way for bicycling organizations to interact with elected officials. Soon the mayors of other towns were included, and the apostrophe migrated to the outside of the now plural possessive adjective. (Yes, I care about such things. I'm sorry if you don't.)

This year Labor Day was exceptionally beautiful, sunny and cool, which seemed extra-special after two weeks of unseasonable heat. That brought a record number of riders; according to the Linn County Trails Association, there were 456 participants, including the mayors of Cedar Rapids, Ely, Fairfax, Robins and Springville. We gathered in Ellis Park on the Cedar River...

...Cedar Rapids's largest park (47 acres) and one of its oldest (1901). There were no snack and drink vendors this year as there have been in the past, but there were volunteers checking in riders...

...a booth where the Linn County Trails Association had inform…