Wednesday, March 22, 2017

First Maple Syrup Festival in new digs

Last weekend's 34th annual Maple Syrup Festival was the first held at Indian Creek Nature Center's new location at 5300 Otis Road SE...
...and about the best-attended-ever as well. About 2500 people had been through the line by the time we got there late Sunday morning.

There were plenty of pancakes and...

...syrup (here, sap collecting from trees near the old barn)...

...but a sudden dearth of sausages stalled the line for about 20 minutes.

Raptor demonstration

The natural amphitheater near the facility is named in honor of Rich Patterson, the visionary director whose long years of leadership helped make the Nature Center a community institution. He's pictured here with his wife Marian, who also served the community in many important ways, including as my son's first P.E. teacher.

The weather was sunny and seasonally pleasant, making for a great day to celebrate nature and the community, traditions and those who helped make them.

SEE ALSO: Cindy Hadish, "Sap Flows Early in Warm Winter as Indian Creek Nature Center Readies Maple Syrup Fest," Homegrown Iowan, 4 March 2017

LAST YEAR'S FESTIVAL: "Maple Syrup Festival 2016," 19 March 2016

Thursday, March 16, 2017

CR Transit moves cautiously in the right direction

CR Transit and the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization rolled out the changes to the bus system they will propose to the City Council, with implementation anticipated this summer. The changes are cautious, more limited than the most incremental model presented at last spring's open house (see link below). They are unlikely to attract new riders, which is unfortunate, but within the limits of their budget and political mandate they will improve the experience of many current riders.

The core features of the bus system remain: daytime only operation (5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.), with lines running hourly out of downtown on looping routes to maximize the service area. However, in a few cases low-use areas have been trimmed, making for a more logical route. The two southeast side routes, pictured below, have been combined, making for a two-mile straight shot along high-traffic Mt. Vernon Road. The routes from the New Bohemia neighborhood near the river to the Mt. Vernon Road Hy-Vee Food and Drug Store, or from Washington High School to New Bohemia, will be far more direct than they are now--see current routes 2 and 9--though it will still be lengthy and tedious to go in the reverse direction.

Route 2 on the southeast side (proposed)
Some trimming and rationalizing would occur on the west side as well. The routes pictured below still take an hour, but are somewhat more direct.
West side route changes
The most dramatic change occurs on Route 5 (blue in the picture below), which is currently by far the leader in ridership. It will now run every 20 minutes, with a 40-minute loop up and down 1st Avenue from downtown to Lindale Mall and back.
Route 5 along 1st Avenue (proposed)
At the mall it will link to two circulator routes which will run hourly to different sections of the adjacent towns of Marion and Hiawatha. This provides more service to a route where buses are frequently crowded, and arguably better service within those towns. The downside is that the circulators will require payment of an additional fare, so that a trip from, say, downtown Cedar Rapids to downtown Marion will cost $3.00 instead of $1.50. That won't affect monthly- or day-pass holders, but at present those can only be purchased at the bus station in Cedar Rapids.
New circulator routes in Marion (light green) and Hiawatha (red) would replace current service

Revolutionary changes like extensive night service, express lines and multiple connections could make the system attractive to new riders,but are probably impossible without substantial infusions of funds. Significant geographic contraction could make the system more fiscally sustainable--possibly providing the basis for revolutionary changes--but would probably impact current riders who, while relatively few in number, depend on the bus. General Mills, Kirkwood Community College and employers around Westdale Mall are where they are, and it's hard to serve them without having extensive routes. For current riders, the virtues of the proposed changes are that they can still get where they need to go, and maybe by a less "scenic" route.

EARLIER POST: "Changes Planned for C.R. Transit," 30 April 2016

Friday, March 10, 2017

Race: A way through?

It is all very well to hope, as Dr. King did, that children "will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of the skin, but by the content of their character." How long does it take to judge the content of someone's character? It takes less than 1.8 seconds to assess the color of someone's skin. As long as race has been salient in American culture, which as Jelani Cobb points out is as long as there's been American culture, this has been hard to get past. So while acknowledging all the progress that's been made on civil rights and race relations, we seem stuck in a place far from where we'd need to be to make King's dream a reality, or to achieve the level of community we'll need in the 21st century.

A huge step individuals can take to help us across the racial divide may be to acknowledge to themselves the persistent reality of race, according to three presenters from the Iowa Department of Human Services who led a workshop at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids earlier this week. The workshop, entitled "Race: The Power of an Illusion," used the Public Broadcasting series of the same name as well as group discussions to ponder disproportionalities in social conditions, particularly for children. Black, American Indian and Hispanic or Latino children are far more likely to live in poverty, to be involved in the juvenile justice system, to be involved in the child welfare system, to age out of foster care, and to be treated differently in health care, both nationally and in Iowa.
Source: Institute for Research on Poverty (
To ascribe these disparities to individual failures is facile, because it ignores the disparate situations of racial groups in America and how they came to be. For centuries, American law and market forces heavily advantaged whites, who were given preferences for citizenship, voting rights, access to Social Security and Federal Housing Authority benefits, and educational and employment opportunities. Civil rights laws passed in the 1960s ended whites' legal entitlements, but at the same time intracity highways and urban renewal programs destroyed urban neighborhoods, with non-whites comprising 2/3 of those displaced. Lenders and real estate agents continued practices of redlining (refusing to make home loans in predominantly black areas) and block busting (frightening whites into selling cheap by threatening them with loss of property values as blacks moved into their neighborhoods). With whites holding vast advantages in resources and population size, their fears and preferences drove property values up where blacks were absent and down where they were present. And then came the 1970s, bringing economic change and the end of working-class careers. Blacks and Hispanics who had been pushed to the end of the line suffered most quickly.

The result is today's structural racism: facially neutral legal and economic systems that produce disparate outcomes because of the accumulated results of past injustices. Fortunately, I'd say, we can no longer afford not to have all hands on deck as we face the 21st century. We can't afford, either financially or ecologically, the infrastructure for people to live as far from each other as they'd like to. This means taking account of systems that don't offer equal opportunities and making those opportunities more equitable. Ways this can be done:
  • Designing cities to be walkable, with spaces that accommodate diverse people and multiple uses. This benefits everybody to some degree, but particularly those who have been excluded from opportunities.
  • Treating education, transportation and health care (and maybe housing?) as merit goods, not privileges, and as a society accordingly investing in them. The market can't make the investment in public transportation systems, and won't find the desired profit margins in middle-income housing or difficult students and patients.
  • Allowing the possibility of our own subconscious bias, and building in reality checks to ensure decisions (like employment) aren't based on superficial characteristics and prejudices. The DHS presenters quoted Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun's opinion in the 1978 Regents v. Bakke case: "To get beyond racism we must first take account of race. There is no other way."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Race, politics and reasons for hope

Dr. Jelani Cobb, from his Twitter page
Ending his talk on a hopeful note, historian Jelani Cobb reminded his audience at Coe College, "People have won under far more difficult circumstances than the ones we currently face." Cobb, a staff writer for The New Yorker as well as professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, was at Coe to give the 14th Contemporary Issues Forum lecture. With a detailed sweep of American history, and speaking in front a of a slide show of racially charged images, he spoke of the centrality and inescapability of race from our earliest days until now.

Beginning with the Declaration of Independence, which had an anti-slavery clause removed by the Continental Congress, and the U.S. Constitution, which contains three clauses protecting or incentivizing slavery, race is not a "side order" to the history of the United States but "permeates the entire country." And this reality is inescapable, even for those who are not black. Recent acts of racist violence in Kansas and Washington, D.C. have seen white Christians killed because they were in the way of an attacker targeting blacks; Indians in Kansas and Wisconsin were killed because the attacker thought they were Iranian Muslims. Cobb recalled Martin Luther King, Jr.'s observation that "we are bound by an inextricable link of mutuality." Race relations are not someone else's problem.

Themes of grievance and fear recur in American racial history. The "Southern sense of Confederate victimhood" preceded Northern white response to the mid-century Great Migration, as well as backlashes against the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Nixon's southern strategy) and the 2008 election of Obama (the Supreme Court's striking down the Voting Rights Act, among other things). A surprising percentage of whites tell pollsters that life is harder for them while blacks have it easy. (NOTE: My own brief digging found a CBS News poll from June 2014 on the subject of whether whites or blacks have a better chance of "getting ahead in today's society." Whites were more likely to say chances were equal; blacks were more likely to say whites were advantaged. Very few members of either race said blacks were advantaged.)

Rape has been an alarming meme through all this period. A (fictional) black-on-white rape is the pivotal moment in D.W. Griffith's 1915 film Birth of a Nation, recurring in arguments for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, Donald Trump's announcement of his presidency in 2015 ("They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists"), and Dylann Roof's explanation to parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina of why he was shooting up their church. ("I have to do this, because you're raping our women and y'all taking over the world.")

Memes like All Lives Matter (in response to Black Lives Matter) reflect the majority's discomfort with our racial history and current reality and a desire to evade the real problem. "We may," he told someone during the Q-and-A after his speech, "spend the rest of our lives trying to undo what's being done now" in terms of poisonous presidential rhetoric and actual standing down from civil rights enforcement by the Department of Justice. And yet...

Along with the evasion, grievance and exploitation of fear, there has been throughout American history a "countervailing tradition... of people of conscience rising up in difficult times and standing for democracy." The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People grew out of a white race riot in Springfield, Illinois in 1909. Jane Addams's Hull House, the American Civil Liberties Union, the investigative journalists known as muckrakers and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s all grew out of intense social crises, to substantial positive effect. Which brought Cobb, on Tuesday night, to the encouraging words with which he ended his talk. Who's to say what might happen next?

EARLIER POST: "Akwi Nji on Choosing Justice over Comfort," 18 January 2017

Opportunity Zones in CR

Construction on 12th Ave in New Bohemia; does this look under-invested? Three census tracts in the center of Cedar Rapids have been des...