By The Gazette Editorial Board
We’ll soon close the book on 2013. And that means cracking the cover on 2014.
What will the new year bring? It’s always tough to predict. But we can list what we’d like to see happen in 2014 on pressing issues facing Iowa’s Creative Corridor.
Speaking of that corridor, encompassing Linn, Johnson and adjacent counties, we’ve become increasingly convinced that greater regional cooperation, greater awareness of the interconnectivity of our communities, holds the key to many of the nagging issues we face in 2014 and beyond. Sharing our ingenuity, information and resources makes sense as we search for ways to grow our economy, address growing poverty, mitigate the threat of flooding and deal with pressing infrastructure needs. What makes little sense is continuing to treat neighbors as rivals in a winner-take-all completion that spawns mistrust and dashes greater opportunities for regional growth.
Of course, regionalism has been talked about for years. But in 2014, we’re hoping our leaders begin thinking and acting even more and more like a cohesive region, growing together rather than fighting for slices of the pie. We’ll be looking for opportunities to promote that idea, and we’ll point out decisions both that promote regionalism and that are inconsistent with its objectives.
For 2014, here are the issues we believe need our region’s attention and our thoughts on why and what we’d like to see achieved:
l Reversing the poverty trend:
Poverty trends are headed in the wrong direction, with the most troubling being a rise in the poverty rate among households with children. The approach must be multifaceted, with continued support for basic safety net programs that stabilize families in need and new investments in closing the gap between employers who need workers and workers who need skills training to fill those slots. Development leaders should set their sights on job creation efforts that puts quality ahead of quantity. And state leaders should devise strategies to reduce the debt load burdening college graduates as they enter the job market.
l Embrace diversity and its benefits:
The Corridor can celebrate its increasing diversity, but we have a long way to go in becoming a more welcoming region, both socially and economically. The progress we make will have a direct bearing on the region’s vibrancy and its attractiveness to the sort of young professionals and families that are vital to our future. Becoming more welcoming also includes creating and encouraging thoughtful approaches to helping residents improve the most diverse neighborhoods in our communities, overcoming stubborn divisions and clearing barriers that get in the way of improvements and investments.
l Move flood protection ahead to the holistic approach:
Although we salute city leaders who were able to secure state funding to build critical levees and flood walls in Cedar Rapids, and we’re hopeful federal dollars will follow, flood protection is not a settled issue. We’d like to see a much stronger regional push for watershed management efforts and best practices. Flooding is only one reason to re-examine how we use the land and handle stormwater within the Cedar and Iowa river watersheds. Conserving Iowa’s valuable soil and improving the quality of Iowa’s troubled waterways are also critical.
l Reverse the deterioration of our roads and bridges:
Voters in the Cedar Rapids metro area voted in November to extend a local-option sales tax for 10 years with numerous infrastructure investments planned. In Cedar Rapids, the money will go toward streets, and we’ll be watching to make sure taxpayers’ pennies are being spent wisely and as promised. But the tax victory here doesn’t relieve Statehouse leaders from their responsibility to provide adequate dollars for Iowa’s transportation needs. The Iowa Department of Transportation already faces a $200 million annual shortfall between available roadbuilding funds and its growing list of needed maintenance. And yet, even as the needs are clear, a skittish Legislature and governor have failed to act. It’s time to summon the political courage needed to address the issue.
l Improve the health and well-being of Eastern Iowans:
The new year will be the first full year of our region’s participation in the Blue Zones initiative, designed to educate and encourage us to reconsider some of our choices and habits while embracing simple changes that could enrich and lengthen our lives. We encourage even the most skeptical among us to take a closer look at what the Blue Zones effort has to offer. And while individuals weigh the possibilities of change, we encourage the major health providers in Cedar Rapids to reconsider the healthfulness of their choices and habits. It seems clear that collaboration between health care institutions, led by St. Luke’s-Unity Point and Mercy Medical Center, would be of more benefit to the community than a rivalry. Cooperative efforts that appear to have faded recently should be revived in 2014.
l More civic engagement:
Back in 1952, this editorial page asked its readers to make a promise: be a better citizen. “By that we mean being the kind of citizen the founders of our country thought we would be when they established this republic,” The Gazette wrote in its Jan. 1, 1952 editorial.
“In short, then, we mean being a citizen who takes an intelligent and active role in the political affairs of his community, county, state and nation — just as the founders intended that he should. Too few of us are really good citizens, in that sense, today.
“Too few of us exercise our prerogatives as a free people privileged to create and guide our own destiny. Too few of us give a hang what happens in government as long as it doesn’t seem to be affecting our personal lives. Even when it does, too few of us care enough about it to become active workers for better government.”
So worries about a lack of participation in civic life are not new. And here we are again, urging you to “give a hang” and get involved. Our company is intent on improving the amount and kinds of useful information and its delivery regarding election candidates and campaigns. We can’t do it alone. Other organizations and businesses should help raise awareness and encourage employees to get involved outside their doors.
Democracy’s health depends on an informed, active electorate.
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