Friday, June 13, 2014

Proposed Cedar Rapids Greenway

The Cedar Rapids Department of Parks and Recreation, along with consultants from the Iowa City design firm Confluence, met with members of the public last night to roll out the almost-final draft of plans for park development along the west side of the Cedar River known collectively as the Greenway. The ideas are elaborate and ambitious, and would take about 10-15 years to come to fruition. Any implementation will need to take into account developing plans for flood protection, which are happening along a parallel track.

The Greenway consists of three chunks, including two large swaths of residential neighborhoods (Time-Check and Czech Village) that were heavily damaged in the 2008 flood. These two portions are connected by a narrow stretch of riverfront across from downtown that already houses the McGrath Amphitheatre.

The meeting was held at the Flamingo Events Center, which has evolved from a long-established restaurant on Ellis Boulevard, and which itself was hard-hit by that flood.
Jane and the flamingo pose by the sign marking the crest of the flood)
The first step of the Greenway projects will be to remove the infrastructure that's there now, particularly streets and sewer lines. The few houses in the area that have been rebuilt will be accommodated, mostly by turning their current through streets into cul-de-sacs, but some streets will be maintained in order to provide multiple access points to the parks.
The immediate result will be a large green space.

As I mentioned, there are big plans for what happens next. A large part of the Time-Check neighborhood may see widening of the current bike trail, a boat launch, basketball courts, and a disc golf "putting green" (which seems to be less than the full course now offered at Shaver Park as well as Thomas Park in Marion). Beaches had been previously discussed, but were scrapped because of their vulnerability to the river.

The Czech Village chunk would extend for several square blocks south of the business district along 16th Avenue, which unlike the residential area has in large part been rebuilt post-flood. This map of the area shows what the city has purchased, what remains in private ownership, and what would need to be done... turn it into a lot of park...
...which could accommodate a boat launch, ice rink and ropes course, among other possibilities.

The most ambitious idea proposed for the downtown area is a kayak run utilizing some things that are already in the river north of downtown across from Quaker Oats.

I like the ambitious nature of the plans, and the intention to make better public use of the river than Cedar Rapids historically has done. In a city that has few true neighborhoods, it's sad to close the book on two with extra character, though connection to the parks may help surrounding areas emerge (or re-emerge, as the case may be).

One woman at last night's meeting expressed concern about the Time-Check section's impact on traffic patterns. She argued that 1st Street west is a convenient bypass, with better traffic flow than Ellis Boulevard currently has. It looks from the map like 1st Street has become a park road, which would indeed divert traffic to Ellis. This is probably good for park development, though Chicago has developed its lakefront parks with frequent underpasses under high-speed Lake Shore Drive. Still her point is well-taken. Park development will need to coordinate with planned development along Ellis Boulevard to allow for the flow of through traffic. (This is not a problem with the Czech Village park, where 12th Avenue and C Street serve as thoroughfares outside of the proposed park.)

Bicyclists at the meeting were pleased by the wider trail in Time-Check, but connections across the river are an open question. There are currently two ways to get from downtown to the trail--A Avenue East (which becomes E Avenue West) or 1st Street West--neither of which is really comfortable, but I've done 2nd Avenue to 1st Street and it's not too bad as long as it's not rush hour. The trail connection to the Czech Village, by contrast, goes across the Bridge of Lions and is pretty smooth at any hour of the day.

More generally, Jane Jacobs's pathbreaking chapter on neighborhood parks cites many ways park projects have gone wrong or right, making the success of any given project seem uncertain and random. A key factor for her clearly is connection to vibrant surrounding. Here's how she describes the neighborhood of a successful Philadelphia park (which I won't name because I don't know Philadelphia well, and a lot can happen in 53 years):

Immediately on its edges it has in sequence, as this is written, an art club with restaurant and galleries, a music school, an Army office building, an apartment house, a club, an old apothecary shop, a Navy office building which used to be a hotel, apartments, a church, a parochial school, apartments, a public-library branch, apartments, a vacant site where town houses have been torn down for prospective apartments, a cultural society, apartments, a vacant site where a town house is planned, another town house, apartments. Immediately beyond the rim, in the streets leading off at right angles and in the next streets parallel to the park sides, is an abundance of shops and services of all sorts with old houses or newer apartments above, mingled with a variety of offices [p. 96]
In short [it] is busy fairly continuously for the same basic reasons that a lively sidewalk is used continuously: because of functional physical diversity among adjacent uses, and hence diversity among users and their schedules. [p. 97]
Neighborhood parks fail to substitute in any way for plentiful city diversity. Those that are successful never serve as barriers or as interruptions to the intricate functioning of the city around them. Rather, they help to knit together diverse surrounding functions by giving them a pleasant joint facility; in the process they add another appreciated element to the diversity and give something back to their surroundings... [p. 101]
The special elements of each park I listed earlier will serve as "demand goods" [pp. 107-110], drawing people from all parts of the city and beyond. But the ongoing success of these projects depend on the ability of planners to coordinate effectively with neighborhood and commercial development.

[Jacobs's repeated reference to apartments in the first paragraph I quoted reminds me that a fellow last night told one of the consultants he doesn't like apartments. That may be because a lot of apartment buildings in Cedar Rapids are miniature slums. Or it may be a reminder that however this develops is not going to leave everyone happy.]


Greenway plans: see comment below

Forrest Saunders, "Cedar Rapids Reveals Greenway Concepts," KCRG, 7 May 2014, [coverage of a previous open house]

"Flood Protection: Both Sides of the River," City of Cedar Rapids,

Ellis Boulevard Area Plan site... More elaboration is in these slides from last fall's presentation

Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association site

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage, [1961] 1992), ch. 5. See also ch. 14 for cautionary tales of parks creating boundaries to neighborhoods rather than connections with them.

Rachel Kaplan, Stephen Kaplan and Robert L. Ryan, With People in Mind: Design and Management of Everyday Nature (Island, 1998).

1 comment:

  1. Here's the link to the city's webpage with the full drawings from Confluence, so you don't have to guess based on my lousy photos:


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