The state of core housing

The state of core housing

At least 29 projects, with a total of 783 new residential units, have been built, proposed, or are under construction in the core of Cedar Rapids. These projects range in size from rehabbed historic homes converted to mixed-use to 96 unit apartment buildings in redeveloped historic buildings. There hasn’t been this level of investment and energy geared towards building residential in these neighborhoods for nearly half a century. The city has used the 2008 flood as a catalyst for investment in downtown, Kingston, and New Bohemia. The McGrath Amphitheatre, Downtown Library, and NewBo Market have reinvigorated downtown and surrounding neighborhoods along the river (with the notable exclusion of the Northwest). Seven years after the flood these public projects have brought the heart of civic life into downtown. Uptown Friday Nights, Meet me at the Market and the Downtown Farmers Market are profoundly successful public events. Two new towers are being built in the heart of downtown, and companies large and small have moved into office space into these neighborhoods. Cedar Rapids is hardly alone in the return of civic, residential and economic life to it’s historic core. The return to the city is one of the defining aspects of this era of American history. While much of the focus is on America’s largest cities, or cities that loom large in the American imagination like Portland and Pittsburgh, the rebirth of urbanism is a comprehensive national trend. What does this mean for Cedar Rapids? The return of housing, specifically multifamily housing, into the core is the vital component that will allow the continued and prolonged revitalization of these core neighborhoods….
University of Iowa students pursue local, global opportunity with Swineguard

University of Iowa students pursue local, global opportunity with Swineguard

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here. Swineguard went from idea to accelerator in a matter of months. It was just earlier this year when Matt Rooda, Swineguard’s CEO and a former junior at the University of Iowa, was dreaming up a device that would help protect very young piglets from being crushed in farrowing facilities. By August, Rooda had assembled a team, developed his business model, and was taking a hiatus from school to be part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 class. “[Being accepted] kind of gave us more belief in ourselves, that maybe what we have is something pretty good,” Rooda said. Pork farmers around the world are feeling pressure as the increasing global population pushes demand for meat higher. Every piglet that dies at a young age is a missed opportunity. The young founder saw the problem first hand when he was working as an assistant farm manager at a pork facility. Swineguard is prototyping a device that would be installed in farrowing crates. When a sow started to lay on one of her piglets, producing a prolonged squeal, the device would deliver a gentle shock that would prod her to stand up again. Rooda heard of a summer program at the UI, and soon Swineguard was one of 11 teams in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s summer edition of Venture School, which was just for students. He recruited three friends to become co-founders, who went out in the field to meet with farmers and veterinarians and refine their business model canvas....
‘Everyone is looking the other way:’ TaxiTapp targets an unloved industry

‘Everyone is looking the other way:’ TaxiTapp targets an unloved industry

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here. Is there still room for taxis in an Uber-ized world? For TaxiTapp, an Iowa Startup Accelerator 2015 team from Indiana and the country of Georgia, the answer is a definite yes. “Taxis aren’t going to ever go away,” said Chris Trujillo, TaxiTapp’s co-founder and director of sales. “Maybe the market is getting smaller, but it’s still a very large market.” The company started in late 2012, when the ridesharing giant Uber was starting to become widely known. They saw three main problems with Uber that taxis don’t have: unreliable availability of drivers, potential sticker shock when the price is unknown, and poor customer service, including a lack of handicap accessibility and safety concerns. “There’s still a huge value in taxis,” said David Lomiashvili, co-founder and CEO. “It’s that stable supply, if you want a ride at 6 a.m. on Monday, you can do that with taxis.” TaxiTapp’s first app, which was developed by an outsourced, overseas team, was a simple fare estimator. Since then, they have found additional co-founders in Georgia and developed a full-featured version. Users can request and book a ride, entering their pickup and drop off location using their phone’s built-in GPS, compare prices, track the ride and pay all using the app. Cab companies can use TaxiTapp’s built in dispatch system to service these requests and see analytics on their business. And while many taxi companies have developed their own mobile apps today, TaxiTapp would provide them with a global platform –...
Developer Steve Emerson’s plans for downtown

Developer Steve Emerson’s plans for downtown

Steve Emerson, President of Aspect architecture:design wants Cedar Rapids to have a bustling downtown. So he’s building it. Since the flood over 650 new or rehabbed residential units are either planned, under construction or completed in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Aspect’s share of that total is substantial. The company has plans for 114 to 130 new residential units across four projects. Each project is a conversion of an existing historic commercial structure into housing. “The core needs that housing component to succeed,” said Emerson. More people living downtown will make downtown safer and encourage retail to move in, said Emerson. He used Des Moines, which has seen its downtown come back to life, as an example. “Des Moines has 10,000 units downtown,” said Emerson, “Cedar Rapids has 1,000.” Two of Aspect’s projects are in the heart of downtown: The former Illinois Gas and Electric Company building at 323 3rd Street SE and Smulekoff’s building at 97 3rd Ave SW. Aspect is waiting to take ownership of the Smulekoff’s building while the city figures out what’s necessary for flood protection. The need for flood protection meant the historic building probably couldn’t remain a retail space, Emerson said. “We’ll likely have to lose the loading dock in the back,” he said. The flood wall and pumping stations will make the already narrow space between the back of the building and the river even narrower. Aspect’s plan for the Smulekoff’s building feature a ground floor event center, either one or two stories of office space and two or three stories of “micro-unit” apartments, with 16 apartments per floor. The final use of the third floor hasn’t been...
What drives neighborhood stigma?

What drives neighborhood stigma?

A while back I wrote that the negative reputation of the Wellington Heights neighborhood boiled down to simple racism. That’s a hefty statement. That’s why I wanted to draw attention to a summary of two recent studies that dive into what drives neighborhood stigma and what the consequences are for a stigmatized neighborhood. Daniel Hertz, writing at City Observatory, goes over studies from Harvard and NYU that deal with neighborhood stigma. The results? Neighborhood stigma is influenced more by the race or immigrant status of residents than by poverty, crime or the amount of drugs. That’s worth repeating: race is a bigger driver of neighborhood stigma than poverty, crime or drug use. “Communities acquire a reputation for being ‘sketchy’ to some extent independently of whether or not that ‘sketchiness’ is real—and in a way that’s heavily influenced by racism.” Hertz wrote.  “Once they have a bad reputation, however, the stigma helps create the very problems it warns others away from—in part by causing people to avoid the neighborhood.” Not only is stigma more closely tied to race than actual bad stuff, stigma results in the creation of actual bad stuff! Neighborhood stigma is a driver for increasing poverty, increasing crime and increasing drug abuse. Stigma creates an incentive for disinvestment that can be a sinkhole for a neighborhood. Check out the the whole article on City Observatory....
Serial entrepreneur, community builder guides Iowa Startup Accelerator’s first corporate innovation team

Serial entrepreneur, community builder guides Iowa Startup Accelerator’s first corporate innovation team

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here. Trevor Carlson is a familiar face to the Eastern Iowa startup community. He’s been involved in organizing 1 Million Cups, Startup Weekend and other meetups in the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area, as well as being involved with several startups himself. “I kind of fell into the entrepreneurial scene on accident,” he said. His first venture was when a friend wanted to start a Korean fusion food cart – that went under within a year. But, Carlson learned from the experience and kept moving forward. “I just kept experimenting with different things, I found a bunch of stuff that didn’t work pretty quickly,” he said. “Up until a year or so ago, I was going ‘I wish somebody would make this, or have this event,’” He said, “Finally, I woke up and went, ‘well, I’ll just do it.’ I’m not very good at asking for permission.” Carlson was recently brought on staff by Geonetric to work on CareDrop, a corporate innovation project, during the Iowa Startup Accelerator. Geonetric makes websites, intranets and marketing materials for hospitals. CEO Eric Engelmann is also the managing director of the Iowa Startup Accelerator, and has been a vocal proponent for agile and other innovation techniques in the Corridor. Since CareDrop is a corporate innovation project, or an internal startup owned by Geonetric, the startup didn’t take the typical $20,000 in seed funding at the beginning of the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s program. Other than that, Engelmann said Carlson will be put through the...