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Showing posts from October, 2016

Community Allies: the virtue of locally-owned businesses

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As Cedar Rapids prepares to welcome two more strip malls on the edge of town, and one of our malls announces a new franchise tenant, it's instructive and inspiring to hear evidence that the most potent tax-gathering areas in towns of any size are downtowns and Main Streets, and that locally-owned businesses contribute far above their weight when it comes to developing strong communities. Those messages were crisply presented by Ellen Shepard in a talk Friday at Loyola University's Center for Urban Research and Learning. Ms. Shepard is the founder and CEO of Community Allies, which works with communities to develop organizations and leadership, facilitate community engagement, and "to grow stronger from within." Prior to that she headed the chamber of commerce in Andersonville, a neighborhood on the north side of Chicago.

I said in an early piece for this blog that I believed local businesses like Brewed Awakenings Coffeehouse were more valuable to the city than nati…

Snout houses? In Oakhill-Jackson??

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Oak Hill Jackson is a historic neighborhood located south of downtown Cedar Rapids. Through most of the 20th century it was home to many of our town's African-American citizens and several thriving congregations. It's in a low-lying area near the river, and suffered considerable damage in the 2008 flood.

Now Oak Hill Jackson stands to benefit from its proximity to the burgeoning New Bohemia commercial and residential district. How the process of gentrification will play out here remains to be seen, but some infill housing construction has begun. I was rather shocked to see two houses going up on 9th Avenue, next to the historic church that now houses New Jerusalem Church of God, with garages in front. This anti-social design has been widely derided. Andres Duany and his co-authors, in Suburban Nation (North Point Press, 2000) say garage-front houses work against traditional neighborhoods in two ways: removing the "eyes on the street" that make streets feel safe to wa…

One successful triangle

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A recent PBS News Hour story examined the development in three cities--Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco--of triangular spaces created by streets (like Broadway in New York City) angling across the city's grid pattern. These odd little patches have been transformed into pedestrian-friendly plazas including places to sit as well as walk.

The Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II in Washington, D.C., is another creative use of triangular space. Installed in 2000, it is located in a triangle created by New Jersey and Louisiana Avenues and D Street NW.
Open on two sides, it presents an oasis to passers-by in the form of a water feature with continuous flow, creating visual interest as well as white noise against the din of the surrounding city.

Once within the memorial a person definitely feels enclosed within sacred space, apart from the street just a few feet away.


There is a soft bell to ring, albeit appeared to be tricky to operate.

Those who wish to …