Saturday, January 2, 2016

Let's talk about: What's up in Uptown Marion?

Last month's New Urbanism Working Group confab got onto the topic of planning in downtown Marion, a town of 34000 adjacent to Cedar Rapids. We decided to take it up at our next meeting, and to meet in Marion. If you would like to join us, please consider yourself invited! We'll be at Ramsey's Wine Bar, 1120 7th Ave, from 7-8 pm. or so on Wednesday 1/27/2016. In the meantime, some background to get the conversation started:

Before the development of New Bohemia--and maybe even since then--the best example of local urbanism was the two blocks along 7th Avenue known as Uptown Marion. 7th Avenue is the main street of the city; in olden days it was U.S. Route 151 and state route 64, connecting in one direction to 1st Avenue in Cedar Rapids and in the other direction becoming the highway to Dubuque.

Between 10th and 12th Streets, though, 7th Avenue narrows to two traffic lanes. One the south side is Marion Park, where the train station used to be, and which plays host to numerous civic events.

On the north side are small, mostly local businesses in lovely old buildings.

Halfway along, where 11th Street would cross if it hadn't been dead-ended on both sides, is a little plaza with a bus stop.

This connection to Cedar Rapids--two buses running circuitous routes every 90 minutes during the daytime, six days a week--could certainly be improved, to the advantage of both cities.

The shops of Uptown Marion are becoming less practical than you would want in a traditional downtown. There is an over-representation of antique and gift stores. There is no grocery, albeit the giant Walgreen's up the street sells a lot of grocery items; the hardware store has been closed for several years; and the venerable Irwin's Clothing just closed.

Moreover, you don't need to go too far in either direction along 7th Avenue before the urbanism completely deteriorates.
Some hopeful colonization above 12th Street...
...but it doesn't last long...
...and on the south side the parking craters start at 11th
Looking west, from 7th Ave & 10th Street
Nevertheless Uptown Marion has one built-in advantage over New Bohemia and downtown Cedar Rapids, which is its adjacency to residential neighborhoods to the north and south, as well as the historic and well-heeled Puffer neighborhood to the east along 8th Avenue.

These areas could certainly support a 24-hour downtown. The Walk Score for this section of Marion is 82, as opposed to 29 for the city as a whole. Besides, some of the Uptown businesses are well-known and well-established. But seriously... only one coffee house?
Wit's End, 630 10th St, your (only) choice for coffee in Uptown Marion,
now that Fat Tire and Marion Square Gardens have closed

First Presbyterian Church (1885), one of two historic churches at 8th Avenue and 12th Street...
...but First United Methodist Church (1895) has announced plans to decamp to the edge of town
Marion's 20-year-old public library building, at 1095 6th Av adjacent to Marion Park.
They're angling for a new facility,. but will stay downtown.
In 2010 Marion adopted a new streetscape plan for the Uptown District (cited below). They planned to narrow 7th Avenue while diverting through traffic to 6th Avenue, reconnect 11th Street across 7th Avenue, and gussy up the alleys to make attractive walkways between the streets and possibly generate some new business locations.

Six years later, the timetable has clearly slowed, and perhaps commitment is flagging. Anyway, are these the steps needed to sustain this enduring paragon of urban infrastructure? Join the discussion, online, or in person!

Uptown Streetscape Plan:
Wikipedia entry for Marion, Iowa:,_Iowa

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