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Editorial: Evaluating progress downtown

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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Downtown Iowa City is described as “Pedestrian’s Paradise” — housing literary giants, offering local flavor and history and lively art and music, and overall being an extraordinary community experience.

On June 20, the 480-member Iowa City Downtown District, which aims to “champion the district as a progressive, healthy, and culturally vibrant center of the region,” gathered to celebrate its success at unifying and improving downtown Iowa City.

The Downtown District has certainly had some remarkable accomplishments and is making steady progress in improving downtown. However, there are still major problems that need to be tackled before we can throw our hands up and toast the district’s achievements, and the city seems to have misidentified those problems.

For the most part, the goals discussed by the Downtown District at its meeting last week were cosmetic. Such goals include generating more foot traffic on the Pedestrian Mall and addressing the lack of shopping diversity.

While these concerns are likely to dominate the district’s agenda in the near future, there are some additional, more grinding issues that the city needs to be focusing on if downtown is to truly be as unified a community as we desire.

Homelessness is a major issue in Iowa City. Johnson County ranks fifth out of Iowa’s six largest counties in the percentage of residents who are homeless.

The visibility of homelessness is exacerbated downtown because of the area’s wide public appeal. And the local homeless community seems to be at odds with some downtown businesses.

Al Raheem Muhaymin, an Iowa City homeless man, filed a petition June 21 with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in hopes of shining some light on this apparent conflict.

According to a report by The Daily Iowan, Muhaymin claims that his family and other homeless individuals have been subjected to harassment and have been denied service at numerous Iowa City and Downtown District businesses.

Muhaymin said, in an interview with the DI, the decision to file a petition came after his wife allegedly witnessed a Den employee beat up a homeless person who was attempting to shoplift at the store nearly three weeks ago.

Violence does not affect the homeless alone. Downtown is also home to occasional violence. There have been many recent reports of violent attacks and behavior in the area.

Just about a week ago, a West Liberty man was charged with domestic-abuse assault and assault causing bodily injury after allegedly punching a woman in the face and throwing a bottle at another woman at the Union Bar, 121 E. College St. — one that many University of Iowa students and other Iowa City residents frequent.

In May, UI student Gabriel Badding was held in the Johnson County Jail after being accused of stabbing two males following a verbal exchange downtown. According to the Iowa City police complaint, Badding allegedly attacked a man with a knife and stabbed him several times near vital organs. Then, Badding reportedly stabbed the victim’s friend, who tried to intervene.

Events such as this are not what we typically think of or hear of as problems when discussing downtown. People are more concerned with the wide offering of women’s apparel versus the lack of men’s apparel stores or the renovation of Panchero’s and Iron Hawk. That needs to change.

The city should be more concerned with the important issues of homelessness and violence. It is not yet the time to celebrate “progress,” but rather the time to reprioritize.


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