Monday, September 26, 2016

Paying attention to the suburban development behind the curtain

Source: Business Insider
As the presidential candidates confront each other in the first so-called debate of 2016, Cedar Rapids and other towns along the Cedar River worry about flooding, and the country ponders gun violence in Houston and Seattle as well as two more police shootings in Charlotte and Tulsa.

My first-year class on The Future of the City is reading Suburban Nation by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zybek and Jeff Speck (North Point, 2010). For many of them it's their first exposure to critical appraisals of the suburban model of development. One of my first-year students, Dominic Parker from St. Louis, asked why, if suburban sprawl "is as big of a problem as it seems, then why am I just (now) hearing an uproar about it?" I first said it was partly because people tend to see the suburban model of development as part of the natural order of things, as opposed to (what it is in reality) a created situation.

More importantly, the suburban model of development is an important component, though certainly not the sole cause, of problems on which we do focus. The two worst floods in Cedar Rapids history have been 2008 and 2016; this "new normal" is exacerbated by climate change and loss of open land, to both of which the suburban development pattern is a major contributor. Analysis of police shootings tend to put primary responsibility either on the police (for being racist or overreacting to tense situations) or on the victims (for being disorderly and dangerous punks). Without denying individual responsibility, why are there high crime areas, isolated from economic opportunity, into which police are repeatedly thrust, thereby exacerbating the probability of violent confrontation?

It's jarring to hear the candidates debate at the same time that the river is bearing down on Cedar Rapids. The grass-roots efforts by hundreds of Cedar Rapidians this past weekend to protect their fellow citizens' homes and businesses speak to the best potential of our common life. The candidates just don't. Clinton is no visionary, and has a fondness for national programs that will at best nibble at the edges of problems; though the few moments in the debate where the public had a chance to be illuminated were hers. I wish she had more answers like hers on urban crime and fewer attempts to match Trump as an insult comic. Trump, whose campaign has been a toxic stew of racial innuendo, vacuous comments and personal insults, has nothing to recommend himself to anyone who cares about our common life.

Can any good come out of this dispiriting election campaign? Will it cause Americans at last to take a long look at our ongoing political divisions? And if they do, will the answer be to retreat to a private life? Or will we look around and see the potential for our neighbors--all of them, white and black and Latino, Christian and Jewish and Muslim and nones--to deal with our problems at the local level?

Cindy Hadish, "'In God's Hands:' Czech Village, New Bohemia Prepare for 2016 Flood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa," Homegrown Iowan, 25 September 2016,
Ben Kaplan, "Photos from New Bohemia Prep,"Corridor Urbanism, 25 September 2016,
Charles Marohn, "It's Time to End the Routine Traffic Stop," Strong Towns, 25 July 2016,
Bruce Nesmith, "Gleanings from the New Urbanism," Holy Mountain, 19 April 2013,

Monday, September 5, 2016

Let's hear it for Cedar Rapids

A great city has places to go and ways to get there, and Cedar Rapids celebrated both this Labor Day weekend. One of the city's most treasured places threw a party for itself Thursday afternoon as CSPS dedicated its courtyard. All that was missing were the bricks recognizing donors, which will be installed near the current entrance at a later time.
F. John Herbert, co-director of Legion Arts, which now owns CSPS, noted that this is not only the 125th anniversary of the building begun by the Czech and Slovak Protective Society, it is the 25th anniversary of Legion Arts, which has brought a variety of music, art, theater and dance artists to New Bohemia. The building re-opened in 2011 after the flood and subsequent renovations, with "more to come" promised (although in conversation afterwards he admitted to being tired of renovating). The courtyard, along with the public parking lot between the building and 2nd Street, "complete the CSPS campus," he said.

John recognized the contributions of many people to this milestone in the building's story, including volunteers from CSA, the successor organization to the Czech and Slovak Protective Society, who were outfitted in natty blue shirts.
Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett was recognized for the city's contributions. He in turn said many people through the years have kept the New Bohemia neighborhood "vital," including John Herbert and his Legion Arts partner Mel Andringa, who "never threw in the towel" and "always believed in this neighborhood."

Jack Evans, head of the philanthropic Hall-Perrine Foundation, praised Legion Arts and CSPS for "uniquely contributing to the quality of life in Cedar Rapids." He called Mel and John "entrepreneurs in the arts" just as the foundation's original benefactor, Howard Hall, was an entrepreneur in industry.

Finally, Tom Torluemke, who designed the mural which anchors the courtyard, "Current: The Pulse of Life," talked about the mural's design and meanings.
Your humble blogger stands before the mural "Current: The Pulse of Life"
The fire house next door, which will serve as a studio for visiting artists...
...was open with various memorabilia from CSPS's life on display. This cozy-looking arrangement...
...was installed by local artist Jane Gilmor.

The celebration continued all afternoon with music and an opening reception for visiting artist Blair Gauntt.

Monday was about celebrating ways to get to places, with the annual Mayors' Bike Ride put on by the Linn County Trails Association. Weather was sunny and summery, and a large crowd gathered (365 according to the Gazette story).

State Representative Art Staed was the first elected official spotted:

We did the traditional 8-mile route, through downtown and up to Cedar Lake and back. Riders saw infrastructure old...
Trail between 1st St NW and the Cedar River
...and new...
Protected bike lane into downtown on 3rd Avenue Bridge well as signs that may be helpful.
Past the end of the bike lane on 3rd Avenue SE
It is increasingly possible to ride safely to many places around town, such as historic and multi-use Ellis Park:
This picture shows swimming pool, playground and picnic area...
there are also hiking trails, a golf course and a Shakespeare garden
You can even ride to church! Looks like First Lutheran is expecting you:

At the LCTA booth, riders could score coffee and snacks and study the metro area's future plans for commuter routes in town...
Marion Master Trails Plan
...and recreational trails:
CVNT improvements entering Center Point
Bit by bit, bicycling and walking are becoming more common around town. Provisions for bicycles and pedestrians help by making people feel safer, and encouraging more people to try it. What the best types of infrastructure are, and where they're most appropriate, are subjects for another day. Today let's celebrate what they do to bring people together, take people to where the action is, and make a stronger city.

SEE ALSO: James Q. Lynch, "Mayors' Bike Ride a Chance for 'Happy' Bike Policy Input,"
B.A. Morelli, "After Sidewalks Installed, Some Cedar Rapids Critics Admit They Are Better Off," Cedar Rapids Gazette, 4 September 2016,

"Labor Day Weekend," 7 September 2015
"Indulging in Urban Fantasy," 6 September 2014
"Mayors' Bike Ride," 3 September 2013

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