On Tuesday I columnized that “critics, cranks and government minimalists” are already taking shots at Cedar Rapids’ latest downtown/riverfront development effort. I said I have a soft spot for the naysayers, but I can’t join the local battle cry that nothing should happen in this town until all the streets are fixed. I argued that healthy cities patch the potholes and offer amenities like trails, etc.
The naysayers, however, don’t have a soft spot for me. I received a number of letters, some twice as long as the column I wrote, calling me a naive downtown latte slurper.
Dan Legrand was first:
“I don’t consider myself to be a critic, crank or government minimalist as your article would suggest would be the only choices if you disagree with any of the downtown development ideas. I think every taxpaying citizen should be allowed to give their opinions on those projects including those who do not agree with them. The city seems to operate with the theory that if you build it they will come and that is not always the case in Cedar Rapids, as we have seen.
“Why does it have to all be centered around downtown anyway?Shouldn’t the whole city be important?
“I am not sure why you think anyone who has a differing opinion has to be tamed. Couldn’t it also be the other way around?
“I would rather have the city support projects that the majority of the people who live and work here are supporting, not a project based on an idea from a consultant who does not live here.”
Steve Hanken also took issue:
“There are lots of reasons why so many naysayers are speaking up in this town, and most of it is based on the track record established on how things have gone in the past. Since we changed the form of governance in this city, many of us had hoped for improvements in services that have been lacking for years, streets being one. Unfortunately, it looks like we only turned a page on the very same book, same old story, same old verse,” Hanken wrote, before describing a long litany of failed and flawed development efforts.
“I have lived here over thirty years, and as long as I have been here it has been from the very first “all roads lead to down town” sort of mentality. Never mind all the movie houses left, never mind that all the retailers left, never mind that the only people who stayed down town were the money people, bankers, accountants, lawyers, and others of like kind and quality. Is it any wonder the only major area with a incremental financing district is down town? It certainly feels like all the rest of the city is screwed over by this financing plan that sets aside the county taxes on the down town while the rest of us have to pick up the slack, especially when it has been going on for over twenty years. While our increases in taxes go to pay for the county services and city government, their increases go to brick the side walks and change the down town street lighting ( a total of three times since I have lived here I know) or fix their streets and build them sky walks. So, I wouldn’t look down my nose at a person who wants to know why the hell their streets are so poor, and filled with chuck holes. They may not realize it, but they are saying loud and clear the fundamentals of a city are being overlooked for a handful of people who intend to rip them off down town. We may not have all the facts, but the track record of failure speaks for itself and I haven’t even mentioned several other things that shouldn’t have happened.”
Good points, really, but I still argue that the definition of urban “fundamentals” is rapidly changing. Cedar Rapids can adapt and compete or be paralyzed in never-ending bickering over past failures.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t critically assess every detail in the development plan and raise hell if the development dreamers sell us a bill of goods. I’m just saying we shouldn’t instantly bury every proposal with bilge and historical baggage and distrust.
But what do I know? I’m still new.