Iowa City walking tour invites residents to contemplate urban renewal

BY DEREK KELLISON | MAY 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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A stream of Iowa City residents walked through town with new perspectives on making neighborhoods more open.


The tour examined the Riverfront Crossings District, which covers the area between Burlington Street and Highway 6 between roughly Gilbert Street to Riverside Drive.

During the May 5 tour, Iowa City City Councilor Jim Throgmorton called on participants to look at neighborhood development through a set of principles created by American-Canadian writer and economic theorist Jane Jacobs.

"We're focusing on making the city a more walkable, mixed-use neighborhood close to where people go to work and where they shop," said Karen Howard, an Iowa City associate planner.

Jacobs' theories included short city blocks, a mixture of old and new buildings with a variety of businesses, and a high-density population, which combine to create a more accessible community. Jacobs established these principles in Greenwich Village, N.Y.

Cities across the country have since asked residents to re-examine their community through events called a "Jane Jacobs Walk."

Throgmorton, a University of Iowa professor emeritus of urban and regional planning, said making parts of the community more accessible, such as parks, also benefits local businesses.

"Micro-parks and roaming spaces can be very helpful in creating a more comfortable space between the road and the sidewalk," he said at the intersection of Clinton and Burlington Streets.

In January, a private contractor for the city produced an analysis that predicted ongoing projects in Riverfront Crossings would attract more young professionals, according to Iowa City documents.

New developments such as the construction of the new UI music facility, would "add an average of 1,064 new households" annually to Iowa City's housing market, according to the report.

Though city officials sought input from the crowd on the developing projects during the walk, some participants voiced concern about the amount of change to the area.

"I love Ralston Creek the way it is," said Laura Rigal, a UI associate professor of American studies and English, referring to the waterway project. "It has always been seen as a ditch for sewage, but its branches provide for all of the eco-systems in Iowa City."

Throgmorton also brought participants' attention to the potential site of the county Justice Center and asked them to evaluate it using Jacobs' guidelines.

Some residents responded the $50 million building might appear as a menacing structure and may appear unwelcoming.

Officials will seek approval for the building's construction during this fall's elections.

Howard told participants many of the area's projects, such as an Amtrak system utilizing existing rail lines, were essential to accessing the offerings of the new district.

"The rail line that runs between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids runs right through the heart of the university and about 30,000 jobs," Howard said. "Part of the goal of this project is to get more transit-oriented development."

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