Showing posts from March, 2015

Jeff Speck in Cedar Rapids

"Walkable places are thriving places," says Jeff Speck (pictured above), architect, author and city planner. Speck, now based in Boston, was in Cedar Rapids to "re-communicate" the importance of safe street design, in hopes of spreading the word to a wider audience, and to sustain the energy behind important changes already begun by the city. He spoke to about 60 people at the new City Services Center on 15th Street SW.
The title of his talk was "The Safe Walk;" among the elements that make for a walkable city, he said safety--both real and perceived--is the factor most directly impacted by government action, specifically design of the street. He focused on downtown Cedar Rapids, saying it was the part of the city that has the greatest potential to be "truly walkable."  Important design elements include: small blocks, allowing for two-lane streets, and resulting in far fewer traffic deaths. two-lane streets, which can easily handle 10,000 cars …

Maple syrup time!

One of the pleasures of living in a place for awhile--one of the things that makes a community a community, and a place a place--is learning its calendar. An annual spring feature of life in Cedar Rapids is the Maple Syrup Festival at Indian Creek Nature Center.

This year's festival came the third weekend of March, instead of the first weekend as it's been in past years. They hoped for a slight improvement in the chances for good weather--and a nice day it was--as well as the opportunity to use this year's syrup because the trees would have more time to produce. There was certainly no problem getting a crowd. I guess the only problem was some of the usual volunteers were not around, having taken advantage of the public schools' spring break to flee the state.

We got there earlyish Saturday morning, and saw all this:

Last year's post: "Maple Syrup Time," 1 March 2014

Cindy Hadish, "Photos: Maple Syrup Festival 2015," Homegrown Iowan,

Envision CR II: Including the poor

The word "poverty" does not appear at all in Envision CR, the comprehensive plan for the City of Cedar Rapids. (The word "poor" appears several times, but always to refer to the physical condition of facilities.) That doesn't mean that the poor won't benefit from fulfillment of some of the city's initiatives therein. But it does leave a concern that those who most need to benefit from the city's growth may not be positioned to do so, and the city may not be prepared to bring them along.

Poverty is a problem of long standing and great complexity, the subject of much research which has been published on a lot of paper. So you'll have to forgive a great deal of oversimplification when I say that, in a dynamic market-oriented economic system, today's American poor are thwarted by lack of access to two key things: economic opportunity and social structures of support. The obstacles are not completely removable, but cities can at least do some th…

Adam Smith and the Road to Correctionville

The State of Iowa passed a 10 cent increase in the motor fuel tax late in February, to 31 cents (for regular unleaded) and 29 cents (for ethanol blends) per gallon. Signed by Governor Terry E. Branstad, it went into effect Sunday, March 1, exacerbating a recent rise in local pump prices from $1.899 to $2.459 per gallon.

The measure's quick and relatively easy passage reflects widespread concern that maintenance of roads and bridges has fallen dangerously behind schedule all across the United States, including Iowa. Majorities, albeit narrow ones, of both parties in each house of the Iowa legislature supported the bill, and Republican governor Branstad clearly supported it, saying: I believe that the leadership deserves credit for working together on a bipartisan basis to pass a piece of legislation that I think will be very beneficial to meeting the needs of the counties and cities as well as the state transportation network.

The tax increase is expected to raise upwards of $200…

Envisioning CR I: A 24-Hour Downtown?

"I'm gonna wake up in a city that never sleeps," sings Frank Sinatra (above) in his 1980 hit "New York, New York" (lyrics by Fred Ebb). That is one version of a 24-hour downtown--where the bars never close and the show never stops--but not the only one. No amount of planning is going to turn Cedar Rapids into Manhattan, and any effort to do so would be costly, ridiculous and futile.

Cedar Rapids can and should have a 24-hour downtown, though, if it means a place where people work, play and live. A surge of investment since the 2008 flood has brought an increase in occupied office space, restaurant and entertainment options, and condominium development from the pre-2008 era. (No numbers, sorry, just assumptions... but I'd be eternally grateful to anyone who has solid numbers.) Exciting parallel development is occurring about a mile to the south, in the New Bohemia district.

Prior to 2008 a fair number of people came downtown in the morning to work, and left…