Placemaking: Seeking our place to belong

Placemaking: Seeking our place to belong

Gazette Column
Pause for a moment and consider your community or neighborhood. Do you thrive there? Are you attached to it? Do you belong? Those are questions I’ve contemplated since returning from the National Rural Assembly, where I took part in placemaking discussions. While talks there focused on creative planning for rural spaces, I was offered a more urban perspective this week at a Cedar Rapids forum, hosted by the Employee Resource Group Consortium. The event, a diversity forum, featured Katherine Loflin, an internationally known placemaking expert. And, since we’ve been interviewing city council candidates, I’ve been able to add some hyperlocal thoughts to the placemaking mix too. Placemaking involves personal attachment to a place, and strategic leveraging of those attachments. For example, increasing or driving attachment to build shared wealth. [caption…
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Got milk? Stay home with baby

Got milk? Stay home with baby

Gazette Column
Did you hear the breaking news report this week that a female breast was displayed at a Dubuque swimming pool? OK, there were actually lots of female breasts on display, but the one that made the news had a baby attached to it. Some poor woman obviously ignored Victoria’s Secret memo that only decorative models are suitable for public display. So, let’s review: Breasts selling hamburgers? Acceptable use. Breasts displayed at car shows or professional wrestling matches? Time-honored acceptable use. Breasts adorned with owl eyeballs? Restaurant genius! Breasts nourishing a child? Clear indicator of society’s moral decay. Women must stop spreading the lie that breasts have a function other than marketing and sexual arousal. To think that such a myth was promulgated at a public swimming pool after so much…
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Johnson County Community ID begins next week

Johnson County Community ID begins next week

Gazette Column
Rollout of the long anticipated Johnson County Community ID begins Friday, another Midwestern first courtesy of the People’s Republic. The cards, primarily offered for people who have difficulty accessing state-issued identification, have been used in some metropolitan areas for years. Johnson County will be the first in Iowa or the Midwest to give community IDs a try. Advocates — and I count myself among them — believe the cards offer an extra measure of dignity and security. All residents, even those with a state-issued ID card or driver’s license, can get a Johnson County Community ID. The cards can be used at participating businesses for discounts or other promotions. That said, they are most useful to members of the community who could be marginalized for one reason or another —…
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Larger issues hidden in Chauncey’s shadow

Larger issues hidden in Chauncey’s shadow

Gazette Column
When a city or region grows, change is inevitable ­— and often painful. Iowa City’s growing pains have most recently been displayed as part of discussions on development of the northeast corner of College and Gilbert streets. On Tuesday night, I listened as a final set of residents sounded off on a proposal to rezone the property — the latest speed bump on the path to construction of the Chauncey, a 15-story, mixed-use high-rise. Nothing new emerged. Those opposed to the Chauncey development remain concerned about traffic, parking, use of taxpayer funds, affordable housing and, of course, the shadows cast by another lofty building. Proponents wrapped their comments around praise for past projects by developer Marc Moen and the need for a “vibrant downtown.” It was another opportunity for residents…
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What might be lost in Iowa City cottage dispute

What might be lost in Iowa City cottage dispute

Gazette Column
This past week has been filled with listening and searching, both producing little satisfaction. On Tuesday night about 80 people gathered at the Iowa City City Hall to discuss the future of two small buildings on South Dubuque Street. The buildings, known locally as the worker cottages, have sparked disagreement. The property owner, Ted Pacha, wants to demolish the structures, literally paving the way for new development in the railroad district. Preservationists hope to save them, saying they represent a segment of the population and a moment in time unique to Eastern Iowa and of which too little already remains. While much discussion at the public hearing centered on whether or not the structures were of historical significance — perhaps due to the narrow question before council members — the…
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May 2015 be a very gray year

May 2015 be a very gray year

Gazette Column
There may be only one thing, packaged in a million variations, that can get our society back on track. We’ve got to forcibly remove ourselves from the echo chamber in 2015 and once again embrace the art of nuance. Have you ever opened a black and white photo in an editing program and zoomed in on the image? If you have then you already know that what can be perceived as only black and white is actually a spectrum of light to dark. It contains black and white, of course, but also every variation in between. All of the shades are necessary if the viewer is expected to have a full, detailed picture. The same can be said of our lives and how we interact with one another. [caption id="attachment_1529"…
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Property tax breaks on the backs of ballplayers?

Property tax breaks on the backs of ballplayers?

Gazette Column
The squeeze is on, and it might be a home run. Or not. The petition placed online by Iowa City Girls Softball sounds the alarm. “The property tax reform passed by the state legislation in 2013 could cost Iowa City $37 million to $52 million in lost property tax revenue over the next decade,” the petition reads. “The City Council has charged our Parks & Recreation Department to come up with a cost recovery effort that will supplement this lost revenue. Currently, the Parks and Recreation Department is seeking approximately $25,000 a year from Iowa City Girls Softball. We need your support to tell the City Council and the Director of Parks & Recreation not to charge ICGS for our use of Napoleon Park. ICGS cannot operate a sustainable organization and be a revenue…
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Get some skin in the game

Get some skin in the game

Gazette Column
How’s cynicism working out for you? Perhaps it is ill timing that during 2014 election mega millions racing across televisions, radios, computer screens and roadsides, I’m hoping Eastern Iowans are willing to set aside cynicism and work for the betterment of all. Yet, apathy has significantly stained our communities, and hasn’t resulted in positive outcomes. In few places is this more apparent than in our justice system. In Johnson County, however, there is an organization attempting to turn the tide. But, without your help and your neighbor’s help, prospects are diminished. [caption id="attachment_1579" align="alignleft" width="500"] Opening remarks at a community discussion on racial disparities in youth systems were delivered by Sara Barron, co-chairwoman of the Johnson County Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee, at the Coralville Public Library on Wednesday, Oct. 15,…
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Local opposition to ‘ineffective’ immigration program not enough

Local opposition to ‘ineffective’ immigration program not enough

Gazette Column
Iowans concerned about increased crime resulting from a decision by some law enforcement agencies not to honor federal immigration detention requests should take solace in new evidence that the local-federal partnership does little, if anything, to achieve its mission of lowered crime rates. From 2010 to 2012, each of Iowa’s 99 counties joined Secure Communities, a federal immigration program aimed at fighting crime by deporting individuals suspected of committing offenses. A new study, however, shows the program to be ineffective. Such findings may serve as the final blow against this particular embattled program, but are unlikely to stop newer federal initiatives that don’t rely on local cooperation and have fewer safeguards against racial profiling. Secure Communities “While [Secure Communities] was originally sold as a voluntary program, we all now know that’s not the…
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Stage set for Fort Madison battlefield

Stage set for Fort Madison battlefield

Gazette Column
Although leaders in Fort Madison have not reversed an earlier decision to split a historic parcel of land and allow retail development on one section, they have entered into an agreement aimed at historic preservation and management of the remainder of the property. While many, myself included, remain disappointed and disheartened by the prospect of a Dollar General store on a part of this significant and irreplaceable War of 1812 battlefield, the most recent action by the Fort Madison City Council nonetheless deserves praise as movement in a good direction. The city will expend a portion of the $51,000 grant money received from the National Parks Service American Battlefield Protection Program to partner with The Walker Collaborative, based in Nashville, Tenn. The organization was the only company of the nine approached by the…
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