Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Design meetings last week

Two public meetings Tuesday raised issues of neighborhood design in the center of town, including enhancing walkability.

At the Metro Economic Alliance downtown, we got our first look at the wayfinding and branding signage chosen for downtown, the MedQuarter, New Bohemia and Czech Village (with City Council approval and timetable yet to come). The signage was developed by Corbin Design which is headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan.

Drivers would be served by this type of sign, indicating which section they're in, and orientation to other sections and attractions.

Pedestrians could benefit from more detailed markers, including "you are here" type maps and interesting historical facts.

Some signs would show walking times to various attractions, which might encourage people to walk more rather than returning to their cars and re-parking.

A closer look at the map, which is stylized and does not depict actual Cedar Rapids.

A couple miles away, a bigger-than-expected crowd assembled at the Shores Center to discuss plans for the College District. (Awkwardly, the College District, Uptown and Mound View all refer to more or less the same physical space, although the boundaries are not exactly the same.)

City staff was on hand to gather residents' ideas in a SWOT analysis (Strengths--Weaknesses--Opportunities--Threats).

At my table strengths and opportunities included access to downtown and two colleges; a mix of zones, building types, businesses and people; long-term residents who identify with the community (despite the multiple names/brands); dense design with a street grid; and available structures and spaces for new residents and businesses. Main concerns ("weaknesses") mentioned were crime, trash, and the condition of buildings. The extent of these problems may be more perception than reality, but they certainly exist. Some of the situation can be mitigated by development, but one hopes the development could be inclusive i.e. be linked to economic opportunities and with housing options for all, as opposed to just pushing people seen as undesirable to other parts of the city.

A side conversation at our table concerned these signs, which have been issued over the years since the early '90s. (Video rather than picture due to the infamous "user error.")

Are these signs, installed in the front windows of homes, "creepy," as one fellow suggested? What they articulate is Jane Jacobs's famous concept of "eyes on the street." Mound View's traditional neighborhood construction in most cases favors eyes on the street, so do we need to say so? Does it evince an overconcern with, maybe even an expectation of, property and/or violent crime?

Dana DeMaster, "Real Public Engagement," Streets.mn, 7 July 2017 
Matt Hammill, "CR College District Could Be Next New Bo Success," CBS2Iowa, 19 July 2017
B.A. Morelli, "Neighbors Embrace Revitalizing College District in Cedar Rapids," Cedar Rapids Gazette, 19 July 2017

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