Cedar Rapids

I’m posting a paper I had to write for my CRP class about how I feel about my hometown. I enjoyed this assignment beacuse it forced me to organize all my thoughts and concerns about Cedar Rapids. Here it is:

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is what most residents would call a “good place to live.” That is a true statement in my view. My time growing up there was pleasant; it was safe, friendly, and offered things to do for fun. I’ve always been fascinated with large metropolitan cities and sought to find elements of them in my own moderately sized city. I’ve been doing this since I was quite young, though I may not have always realized it. Up until just a year or two ago, my idea of what makes a good city was pretty ill-informed and naive. I assumed that basically all things about major metropolitans were good, and therefore something to strive for in my own city, whether it be dense neighborhoods, public transportation, or even endless freeways and suburban sprawl.

That was a time when I would excite over a new strip mall going up or a new big box with generous parking. Anything to make the city seem a bit more like a larger city was good. However it would still always lack a true urban core, which in my view now and probably even then, is an essential part of an exceptional metropolitan city.

Aside from a few tiny pockets of urban agglomeration most of Cedar Rapids is sprawled and auto-centric. Downtown is respectable with about a dozen or so dominant mid-rise buildings and an enormous but not overbearing Quaker Oats factory to the north. From a distant view the skyline is large, appearing vibrant and powerful, but the internal experience is thoroughly disappointing. Much of downtown is too open (per the wide river, building scales, and open lots) making it feel incomplete and vulnerable. City Hall and the county courthouse are located on Mays Island in the Cedar River in downtown, which is unique to only two other cities in the world. In between the two buildings is a public green space used for festivals but at all other times it is completely desolate. There’s really no reason to go there unless you work in either of the two buildings. Overall downtown lacks character, vibrancy and is not the urban retreat I’d like it to be.

Resident mentality and civic interest is also an important part of a great city. There is a sense of community in Cedar Rapids but I think the goals of people are largely individual. Most are satisfied with the mundane character of the city and put more effort into their own homes. If you are successful, you most likely live in an upscale suburban home or in a new cookie-cutter subdivision. There are no townhouses and few attractive living options downtown. The older residential areas around downtown are denser and more mixed use, but like most American city cores, have seen better days. Though they are not as well kept and more crime-ridden, the residents of these areas seem to have a much greater sense of community and ownership of their neighborhood. If there’s any community in newer subdivisions it feels artificial and temporary, at best. Residents are much less likely to interact with their neighbors on a daily basis than those in the older, denser neighborhoods closer to the core.

As the city continues to grow and expand, virtually all new housing is in the form of suburban subdivisions or cheap apartment buildings. Like I mentioned before, a few years ago I thought this was terrific, but now I find it depressing and degrading. Cedar Rapids is simply becoming a large suburb and losing its integrity as a substantial city.

 

In conclusion I consider Cedar Rapids a real city and significant to the state of Iowa. However it simply does not offer the urban physique or attitude I now desire. It continues down a path of suburbanization, ensuring it will never satisfy me. It was a nice place to grow up and will be nice to come back and visit sometime. But that’s about it.

1 Comment

  1. You sound very ambitious and eager to learn all you can about cities and urban environments. It’s true that we can’t help where we are born, however, every place has value. I would recommend that as soon as you can, visit some of the cities in Europe where lifestyles (if not languages) are somewhat similar to our own. You will certainly gain an appreciation for the walkability of them, the historic nature, the diversity as well as the many options for public transit. To me, the less reliance on a car, the more urban a city truly is. Don’t write off Cedar Rapids at all, just experience as many cities as you can. You will realize what you treasure in C. R. as well as what is lacking for you personally.

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