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Open space important in IC

BY EMMA WILLIS | JULY 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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Despite having the highest concentration of people living per square mile in the state, Iowa City residents still enjoy their open spaces, according to a recently released city report and the U.S. Census Bureau.

With approximately 2,713 residents per square mile, Iowa City beats out Iowa’s largest city, Des Moines, by nearly 200 people, despite having one-third of the capital city’s population figure.

Statewide, the average number of people living in a square mile stood at 54.5, according to the 2010 Census. With a population of 128,119 Iowa’s second largest city, Cedar Rapids, has a density average of roughly 1,734 people.

College towns Ames and Cedar Falls, home to Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, also rank among the densest communities. Ames has more than 2,435 residents per square mile, with Cedar Falls having nearly 1,366.

But city officials say the high-density rates have not kept locals from using a number of open areas.
To date, 99.4 percent of all Iowa City residents live within a half-mile of parks, schoolyards, and natural areas, according to the 2013 Sustainability Assessment.

With 41 parks in the area, city Parks and Recreation Director Mike Moran said the city looks for space that is lacking or deficient before it decides to add a park to the area. It does so for the economic benefits, he said.

“It’s always more desirable to locate near a park,” he said, noting that the city’s park system is well-spaced out.

Though unsure of the specific budget spent on maintaining and building new parks, he said the amount of time and money differs case by case, with larger parks with recreational facilities such as baseball and softball diamonds, as well as swimming pools, requiring more upkeep than others.

Neighborhood-services coordinator Marcia Bollinger said residents generate heavy feedback at numerous monthly neighborhood association meetings across the city. Rather than city officials choosing park-improvement projects, she said, it is primarily up to the residents to pick what would and would not work.

Mike Jensen, a broker associate at Lepic-Kroeger Realtors, said not only do open spaces result in bringing added health benefits to residents, but having them incorporated into a neighborhood is a major selling point for a family looking for a home.

It aids in the speed in which the house sells, as well as increases property values. Jensen said that though there are a variety of reasons that make Iowa City’s property values so high, property value and open space definitely play a factor.

North Side Marketplace resident Iowa City resident Amy Christensen Byerly said she’s not surprised at the high number of residents living within in proximity to parkland.

With four parks within walking distance of her house, she said, it’s a beneficial amenity especially because her family has a small yard that does not have room for her children to run around in.

Terry Robinson, the superintendent of the forestry division of Parks and Recreation, said the city requires a certain amount of open space in a neighborhood.

So how exactly are new city parks established?

According to the 1994 Open Space Ordinance, all residential developers must dedicate a portion of land or must contribute an equivalent amount of money set aside for the attainment of an open space area in that neighborhood.

In order for those developers to build they must meet with engineers, lay out a plan, and pick a portion to dedicate to open space. The plan is then presented to the Planning & Development Department, which either accepts or denies the plan.

If plans are denied, the developer is required to pay a fine that is funneled into general funding allocations in an equivalent amount of money set to build new open spaced land.

Robinson said that though he’s never sent the removal of a park in Iowa City, the lifecycle of city parks are often a roller coaster, with peaks depending on the age of the neighborhood.

The average age of Iowa City’s municipal parks stands at just over 45 years old.

He said with parks improving the quality of life in a community, the trend can also be seen on a national level as well.

Locally, young families often take advantage of parks to the greatest degree and as the median population of a neighborhood increases, park use begins to decline. The movement isn’t reversed until the average age of neighborhood residents and their children, in turn, decreases, Robinson said.

“It’s safe to say one of the things we see is it’s very cyclical,” he said. “It seems to recycle itself.”


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