Apologies for the lack of fresh postings lately here on Urban Thinking. Though I’ve done a poor job of following recent development and urban progress, much has taken place in the past few months and 2012 is already off to an exciting start for Cedar Rapids and the Corridor. The bulk of major flood-induced projects in the city’s core are now well underway, if not already complete. During the past year, much of the major visible progress occurred on the south end of downtown: exterior of new federal courthouse largely complete, conversion of old library to TrueNorth offices, reopening of CSPS, move and expansion of National Czech and Slovak Museum, and streetscaping and continued small-scale redevelopment in New Bohemia.
In this upcoming year much more visible change will be happening on the north end of downtown and more focused in the built-up core. Renovations to the Paramount Theatre are well underway, set to reopen this fall, which will bring another major attraction back to downtown. Similarly the new convention center has begun to take shape just in the past week with steel structure going up quickly along First Avenue. Next door old curtain wall windows are being removed from the hotel in preparation for major renovation, in addition to work inside the US Cellular Center.
Foundations have been poured and daily progress is visible at the site of the new Cedar Rapids Public Library, sitting across from Greene Square Park to the south. A new multistory office building at the former site of the (regrettably) demolished People’s Church is contributing to the expansion of downtown toward the east. Much opportunity exists for infill development and urbanizing underutilized and vacant sites that characterize a fringe between the urban core and surrounding neighborhoods. Along with development in the Medical District along 10th Street SE, namely PCI’s Medical Pavilion and Mercy’s new cancer center, this area has a lot of potential.
Not to say this progress is all flawless or without irreversible consequences. PCI’s Medical Pavilion in particular has stirred much controversy around the closure of 2nd Avenue and excessive surface parking planned on surrounding blocks – threatening yet another beautiful church building, First Christian Church. As noted above, the People’s Church was sadly torn down this past fall after holding the corner of 3rd Ave. and 6th. Street for 136 years. Additionally, throughout the city’s core, continued flood redevelopment and especially the particulars of a flood protection system will put other historical and architecturally significant structures at risk.
Exciting changes and development are a constant for our neighbors to the south in Iowa City as well. Unquestionably a much better urban scene than CR – despite its smaller size – more minor changes and openings in downtown Iowa City and surrounding districts are certainly interesting to follow. While Iowa City tends more than often to “get it right” on creating quality, mixed-use redevelopment, they too have their slips – most notably the recent demolition of a cherished local organic restaurant The Red Avocado. Unlike Cedar Rapids, where most of our demolished treasures are replaced by parking, this quaint house and a few of its neighbors will be replaced by a high-quality, urban mixed-used housing building. Still, it’s unfortunate when even a good development has to destroy something – business or building – that already contributes to the community/neighborhood’s unique character.
The last few months have also brought a number of [positive] changes for me personally, which have influenced my desire to stay around the Corridor for some time. At the end of October I was offered a full time position with an architecture firm here in Cedar Rapids, after spending a few days trying to land a job in Boston. Literally within the same week, I ended up meeting my now-girlfriend Emily. Additionally, I purchased my first car ever, ending my often inconvenient carless lifestyle in the CR. (I had no intention of buying a car had I moved to Boston.) While I’m a huge fan of transit and enjoyed utilizing the system here, it simply cannot fit my mobility needs beyond commuting to and from work. Needless to say, I am now going to be here for a while – and I am thoroughly looking forward to it.
It is an incredibly exciting time to be in Cedar Rapids, especially working in the profession of architecture. Additionally, there really is quite a variety of things to do and see in the area, and it only seems to be getting better. Obviously Cedar Rapids is no Boston or Chicago. An urban lifestyle is not that easy to come by here, but that doesn’t mean there is no urban personality or amenities, simply on a much different and smaller scale. So that is my hope and ambition – to seek out and experience those places and things that give CR and the Corridor its urban flavor and work to promote and support continued urbanism here. There is so much potential in Cedar Rapids, it’s hard not to be passionate and want to be apart of it all. I’m in, are you?