Cedar Rapids: The next 20 years

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 22 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:00 am in

By The Gazette Editorial Board

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Comprehensive planning: For local governments, a process that determines community goals and hopes in terms of community development.

Comprehensive plan: This is the result of comprehensive planning. It formalizes general public policy and guidelines for transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, housing and the environment. It usually encompasses the entire community and its focus is long-term.

EnvisionCR: The initiative to create a new comprehensive plan for the City of Cedar Rapids that is intended to “shape the physical, economic and social fabric of the community for the next 20 years.”

A broad and tall aspiration, to say the least.

But it is important? Yes.

And with the bulk of flood recovery from our 2008 disaster behind us, and resources coming together for permanent flood protection, this is an appropriate time to form a new plan for Cedar Rapids.

Communities that have a clear vision and effectively implement much of a thoughtful comprehensive plan achieve a better quality of life for more of its residents, according to experts with Better! Cities & Towns.net, an online resource for community development analysis and information.

WARNING SIGNS

Contributor Bill Spikowski says that a comprehensive plan can become stale, meaningless, or even harmful when:

l The vision described in the plan sounds like it was written 30 years ago or the plan has no vision.

l It has to be retrofitted to allow walkable neighborhoods or “complete streets.”

l Rezoning applications routinely require amendments to the comprehensive plan.

l The city engineer insists on widening a road to meet the plan’s level-of-service standards, despite adopted complete-streets policies.

l The future land-use map in the plan looks like a zoning map, breaking the community into single-use monocultures.

l Or, the plan is no longer being implemented.

THE 1999 PLAN

Cedar Rapids last completed a comprehensive plan in 1999. The overriding goal of that plan was to guide fiscally and environmentally responsible growth — avoiding unfettered development of large tracts of farm land and other valuable open space that can’t be replaced once developed. Within that goal were the objectives of maintaining diverse and healthy neighborhoods, ensuring an ample supply of financially affordable housing for all residents, planning adequate public services for the future, providing a transportation system to meet diverse needs and providing recreation programs and facilities throughout the city.

The plan also included implementation strategies such as more intergovernmental agreements with neighboring municipalities and Linn County; developing an interconnected system of parks trails and open spaces; and encouraging infill development while requiring new development to “pay its fair share of the capital costs of (new) infrastructure. ...” It noted that success will depend on many public and private partnerships and collaborative decision-making.

PROGRESS

So, how’s that plan been working for Cedar Rapidians?

Well, we didn’t attempt a full 15-year evaluation, nor is there one available from city leaders or staff.

However, it’s fair to say that progress was made on many of the goals and their implementation. And keep in mind the plan covered a period of time that included two dramatic events in our community: the shift from the full-time commissioner style of government to a part-time citizen council, approved by voters in 2005, and then the flood of 2008.

Progress, for example, has been apparent on the trail system and more infill development, much of the latter in the city’s core. There’s been substantial growth in new housing in many areas of aging core neighborhoods, along with the revitalized New Bohemia district. There are also initiatives in place as a result of the post-flood recovery planning in the near west-side Kingston Village and Ellis Boulevard areas as well as Wellington Heights on the east side, with more to come. Small business entrepreneurship is blossoming with public and private support.

In fact, a renaissance of sorts is unfolding throughout much of our community. Many positive, exciting developments have been achieved or are underway.

MORE TO DO

Yet it’s not happening for all of us. Poverty rates have climbed in recent years, especially among households with children. Pockets of neglect and decay remain in some neighborhoods. Connecting more unskilled or low-skill people with job training and opportunities is still a significant challenge. There are heightened concerns about adequate services for the mentally ill.

And a much more focused regional economic development strategy with the Corridor neighbors still lags, although it’s getting more attention and action from a growing coalition of players.

So this is no time to get complacent about where our community stands. We have achieved much and there is much to achieve.

A re-envisioning process with ample engagement from a wide cross-section of our residents can be invaluable toward reinvigorating and resetting the vision for our community. That process begins this week and will continue in the weeks and months ahead (see adjacent information).

We encourage every Cedar Rapidian who cares about the direction of our community in the next two decades to get involved in some way. Make your voice known. Listen to others. Offer constructive input and suggestions.

Don’t come with unrealistic expectations that yours are the only words that must be heard. Do come with a mindset that the more authentic number of voices we have chiming in, the better able we are to collectively plan and create a brighter, more prosperous future for all of us.

The city’s new Director of Development, Gary Krause, told us the new plan will require annual reports that evaluate whether the goals are being met, are still valid or need revision. Good to hear.

But first, it’s time to hear from you.

Comments: editorial@thegazette.com or (319) 398-8262

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TO GET INVOLVED

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MONDAY

12:30 p.m. — Online forum: The Gazette’s We Create Here team is hosting a Google Hangout, an interactive online conversation to get people talking about EnvisionCR as well as the greenways project. Go to this link: http://tinyurl.com/nzjrepu

WEDNESDAY

5 p.m. to 8 p.m. — Public kickoff to discuss ideas and hear presentations by city staff, National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 1400 Inspiration Place SW

APRIL 7-10

4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily — Interactive workshops, feedback and access to planning process, CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Is there other feedback and/or ideas you want to share with us? Tell us here.



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