Guest post: Cedar Rapids, who knew?

Guest post: Cedar Rapids, who knew?

Guest post: Aren Buresh is a high school student and musician, rediscovering her hometown through the Iowa Big School. (Photo via Twitter) I’ve grown up in Cedar Rapids. My entire life has been spent here. Ninety percent of my memories are tied to this city in one way or another. I thought I had this place defined pretty well: boring. Yet, this past year, that definition has changed radically. Sixteen years in one place, and I never truly saw it. Sixteen years, and I never knew what the word “community” really meant. How does that all change? Well, it helps that I’m young and still relatively impressionable, but it also helps to actually know a thing or two about your city. It’s incredible how in the dark I was. Of course, I learned about it in school. For three weeks. In the third grade. I also built a 3D topographic map of Mt. Trashmore in middle school, and surely that counts for something. Alas, while I was technically exposed to my city, I never found a passion for it, when I really should have. This year, I’ve joined a project based learning program called Iowa BIG, and am on a photography project teamed up with another group exploring the history of Cedar Rapids. I didn’t have to look beyond a few aerial photos from the 1940s to see the history here, and the change this city has seen. I see a huge significance in that. Cedar Rapids has not merely existed. It has been built up, and torn down, and built up again. It has changed and grown, like…
Our year in video

Our year in video

We’ve done a lot of cool stuff this year. We launched the Diversity Data Center. We asked what it means to be Iowan. We curated the best innovation news happening in the corridor. We found the coolest goodreads about urbanism. One of the things we did was bring you videos about the topics we cover. Here are the highlights from our year in video: Kiran Sood went out to local coffee shops to figure out what attracts young professionals to the corridor: Brian Morelli profiled Wade Goeke, the eccentric founder of Shell Rock audio equipment company Chandler Limited: Ben Kaplan took a look at the Peninsula, an Iowa City New Urbanist neighborhood: Sarah Binder embedded herself in the ISA. In this video we find out what the first month of the program was like: Here’s what people at Cedar Rapids’ downtown farmers market said it means to be Iowan: Dan Reed, Vice President for Research and Economic Development at the University of Iowa, told us what he thought the role of a university is in society: We also learned about local organization Trees Forever, interviewed entrepreneur Bob Dorff, asked how diversity and entreprenuership intersect, led a conversation about what people wanted from the EnvisionCR process and asked, “what would you do without fear?”  ...
A visitor’s eye on Cedar Rapids

A visitor’s eye on Cedar Rapids

Jim and Lesa Davis of Nevada, just east of Ames, are regulars in Cedar Rapids thanks to the annual high school volleyball tournament at the downtown U.S. Cellular Center. Their daughter is a setter for the purple and gold Cubs. “We try something different each time we come, except Ryan’s Steakhouse,” said Jim Davis, noting his favorite places to visit - Maid-Rite and Biaggi’s, and Ryan’s on Collins Road, which is now a must-visit each time. State volleyball, which brought in about 28,000 fans, was the biggest of roughly 50 conferences and events that attracted more than 100,000 visitors to the area this past year, according to figures from the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Not only do the conferences and events bring in $13 million in direct spending, they symbolize potential. They are opportunities to showcase Cedar Rapids to potential suitors for future conferences, tourist visits, locating a business or joining the workforce. The trick is maximizing exposure to the city, making it accessible to explore, and conveying quality of life when out-of-towners visit, said Christine “Shimo” Shimasaki, managing director of the event impact calculator for Destination Marketing Association International, a trade association of convention and visitors bureaus. “No question, there’s so many gems in every destination,” Shimasaki said. “Unless you go visit them, you can’t see the opportunity and see yourself in a destination.” A 2011 survey by Development Counselors International found 13 percent of executives with site selection responsibilities state their perceptions of an area’s business climate were influenced by leisure travel and 37 percent reported influence by business travel, according to the Destination and Travel Foundation. “A leisure visitor coming...
Corbett: Rail-trail link could be ‘very successful’

Corbett: Rail-trail link could be ‘very successful’

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has a history of supporting bicycling in Eastern Iowa, even when it’s meant taking heat. The city adopted a “Complete Streets” policy, they’ve enhanced on-street bike resources, such as painting distinct green bike lanes, and he pushed to direct 80 percent of the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization’s funding pot to trails when it typically mostly goes to streets to the consternation of some. So, when he heard former congressman and current Iowa transportation commissioner Leonard Boswell tout a transportation triangle of light rail along side recreational trail between Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Amana, Corbett was among those who took note. “I think it would be very successful,” Corbett said, particularly on the recreational trail side. Corbett is among several local leaders who’s interests were piqued by the idea, but execution and funding will be another matter. The concept also lacks a champion, which has historically driven trail projects, some say. The Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, a national organization devoted to converting old railroad beds to recreational trails, completed a report in 2013 about the growing number of active rail lines paired with recreational trails. They call it “rails-with-trails.” According to the report, there was a 260 percent increase in the number of rails-with-trails from about 62 in 20 states in 2000 to 161 rails-with-trails covering about 1,400 miles in 41 states in 2013. By June 2014, that number had grown to 217 rails-with-trails in 42 states, according to the Conservancy website. There’s a growing trend of trail development alongside local and regional transit corridors, which is similar to what Boswell suggested. About 15 percent of active rails-with-trails are along mass...
Create Your Anamosa works to rev up Main Street

Create Your Anamosa works to rev up Main Street

<>103 E. Main Street is for sale. The main floor has 1,700 square feet of commercial space and there are two apartments on the second floor. The building is listed for $14,995. Fridays in Anamosa have a new tint - Raider blue. The town’s library staff had worn the school colors on Fridays, and then the business community along Main Street embraced the idea. “It’s about community spirit,” said Jim Johnson, publisher of Anamosa’s newspaper, The Journal-Eureka, and president of the Anamosa Chamber of Commerce. It’s a sign of the times for the town of about 5,500 people north and west of Cedar Rapids where a grassroots community effort called Create Your Anamosa is working to rethink what’s possible now and in the future. Anamosa residents rallied together to host thousands of Spandex-clad Iowa cyclists when RAGBRAI rolled through a couple years ago. That’s no small feat, especially when the visitors out number the town’s population by three or four to one. The event got residents mobilized and the show of community coming togetherness got them thinking about how to push the momentum forward. That’s the inspiration for the months-old effort called “Create Your Anamosa.” More than 70 people attended a kick-off meeting in August, which We Create Here helped facilitate, and a second Create Your Anamosa community meeting was held in September where the group refined broader topic areas that emerged in the first meeting. Participants are determined to not leave their ideas confined to meeting rooms. “Having a project and working on a project as opposed to just sitting on a committee is what sets us apart,” said Dusty Embree, director of Jones County...
Cedar Rapids-Iowa City-Amana bike trail: ‘That’s exactly the direction we’re going’

Cedar Rapids-Iowa City-Amana bike trail: ‘That’s exactly the direction we’re going’

Johnson County Conservation Director Larry Gullett said he was pleased when he heard former Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell is trying to revive interest in a rail and trail triangle between Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Amana. Boswell, who now serves as an Iowa Transportation Commissioner, has been talking up the project this year, saying it could boost tourism and economic development, as well as be a boon for all three communities. The idea has been floated in the past without success - it would be expensive, particularly the light rail - but Boswell said with Iowa’s economy thriving again, it is a good time to reignite the conversation. “That is exactly the direction we are going,” Gullett said “That idea or vision that Leonard Boswell put out there is entirely consistent with our vision and hopes for the future. We think it is great idea.” Gullett said they are progressing towards a connection of the Clear Creek Trail from Coralville to F.W. Kent Park in Tiffin, and then the plan is to bring it west to Oxford, which is about 10 miles through the country from Amana. Meanwhile, Cedar Rapids has a trail system that runs down along the Cedar River. To the north it connects all the way to Cedar Falls. Heading south towards Iowa City, the Cedar River Trail, which changes names to the Hoover Nature Trail, goes as far as Ely, almost to the Johnson County line. The Iowa Department of Transportation recently announced its recommendations for trail funding. Included in that, is money for another of Gullett’s projects - design work on the so called “missing...