Showing posts from November, 2013

A holiday tradition

Eli and I were over to the Brucemore Mansion National Historic Site this evening for their members' holiday open house. The rooms of the 1884 mansion are lavishly decorated, there was music on the Skinner organ (soon to be restored), and there were cookies and punch.. The mansion is about a block from our house, and is a Cedar Rapids landmark. We've gone over there before Christmas most years since moving to Iowa in 1989.

From my journal, 12/17/1991:
About 6, we went over to Brucemore Mansion for their Victorian Christmas. There was a contingent from First Congregational Church singing, after 7. When we got there, we were regaled by some performers from Youtheatre. Between acts, we toured the house and looked at the magnificent decorations, as we do every year. The decorations are pitched at the turn of the century, when the house was in its heyday, and give rise to all sorts of fantasizing. The Brucemore guides are able to answer most questions when curiosity strikes. From my…

Cedar Rapids City Council runoff

Cedar Rapids voters get a second bite at the apple the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, as they choose among the four top finishers for two at-large seats on the City Council. The top city issues appear to be the budget, flood protection, street repairs and trust in government. None of these is unimportant, but they have pretty nearly crowded out issues of physical design and how we can all live together. For example, none of the candidates pushes discussion of the budget as far as questioning whether spending $10.5 million on buffing up a mall at the edge of town is a good use of scarce funds. Or whether the city's share of a $200 million ring road around the west side (which amount doesn't count maintenance responsibility for the rest of time) will pay for itself, given we're having enough trouble keeping up with the streets we have. None expressed any views on proposals for MedQuarter. None of the four candidates is visionary, though each has something appealing about them.

The 'new normal' economy and place

(The poor in America face other barriers to opportunity besides physical ones.)
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is flirting with 16,000 this week, which would not only be a new milestone but also about double where it was in the early months of the Obama administration. Part of the economy, at least, is back. The rest seems to stumble upward, slowly: economic growth is running barely 2 percent a year, and the unemployment rate remains stubbornly above 7 percent.

Those of us who are optimistic by nature expect that, sooner or later, pleasant days will return. Unemployment was much lower through most of the 2000s--it was 4.5 percent in spring 2007--and maybe we could get back there? But even the six years of growth between 2001-2007 were less than optimal, as poverty rates rose, and median family income never got back to its 2000 level. For those of us with longer memories, the late 1990s had even better economic indicators: Not only did poverty decline, and unemployment dip below 4 …

Downtown, where all the lights are bright?

(People's Savings Bank, 101 3rd Av SW; photo by me of an older photo in their offices, of unknown provenance)
Late last week came news, thanks to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, that this former bank building, occupied most recently by Wells Fargo, is going come April to be an "upscale" Italian restaurant called Popoli Ristorante. This is a triumph for historic preservationists, who worked long and hard to save this building, designed by Louis H. Sullivan and erected in 1912. It's an exciting business opportunity for general manager Brandon Godwin. And it's a first step towards redeveloping the west side of the river in the downtown area.

Popoli will join several other fine dining establishments in downtown Cedar Rapids: Zins', Cobble Hill, and the just-opened Syndicate European Pub (described by its owner, my neighbor Kory Nanke, as offering "elevated pub food"). I wonder how many upscale dining establishments our downtown can support? My friend Niles w…

Talking about walking

This week we received a flyer in the mail from a City Council member running for re-election. He counts among his proudest accomplishments the approval of plans for redoing the Westdale Mall property. Well, I won't be voting for him. As I've already written, not only is the city's $10.5 million contribution outsized, but as a pocket bounded by multi-lane streets it does little to resolve issues of the city's future.

Designing a metropolitan area around the free movement of cars has specific negative consequences for people. A big, maybe the biggest, issue in this election is the condition of the city's streets, which are pretty bad in many places. Most candidates have endorsed a "yes" vote on the referendum to extend the one-cent sales surtax, with revenues dedicated to fixing the streets. I'm inclined to discount mayoral candidate Greg Hughes's complaint that the money was always there to keep up with the streets, but was spent on other things. O…

Halloween 2013

We had 145 trick-or-treaters at our house, towards the low end of what is a typical Halloween on our street. (I'm already bracing for next year, when Halloween falls on a Friday!) In our part of town, at least, it is a major civic festival. And why not? Our street is well-lit, there are sidewalks on both sides of the street, and homeowners are both into the spirit of the thing and financially able to pop for piles and piles of candy. For one fall night, at least, the dark street is full of people, making the walk both safe and festive.

There were some memorable costumes. Any number of children, mostly boys I'm guessing, were dressed as Star Wars characters with glowing red eyes (that were, alas, hard for some of them to see through). A little girl and her brother came as Fern and Wilbur from Charlotte's Web. There were a couple box-like characters from the game Minecraft, which we recognized thanks to having teenage game players among us. The excitement was contagious, an…