Guest Columnist

Disaster revealed our creativity and strength

President George W. Bush looks as Iowa City mayor Regenia Bailey and Iowa governor Chet Culver point in the direction of flood damage on Normandy Drive in Iowa City during a visit to areas on Thursday, June 19, 2008. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
President George W. Bush looks as Iowa City mayor Regenia Bailey and Iowa governor Chet Culver point in the direction of flood damage on Normandy Drive in Iowa City during a visit to areas on Thursday, June 19, 2008. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Nothing feels natural about a natural disaster. Even in a community as accustomed to change as Iowa City, the scope and scale of change brought by a disaster is mind-boggling.

The loss of homes, neighborhoods and iconic community structures is heart-wrenching. We all felt this 10 years ago — a sense of loss and the anger and sadness that goes with it; a feeling of being overwhelmed, along with confusion, frustration and exhaustion. We shared these feelings with other communities up and down the Corridor and in other places in Iowa that year.

Yet, even before the floodwaters began to recede, Iowa City determined two things: we would not let a “good crisis go to waste” and we would learn lessons from the 2008 flood that we hadn’t taken to heart after the flood in 1993. With these two things in mind, the city created ambitious plans for our downtown riverfront, for the primary entrance to our community, and for the homes and neighborhoods affected by the second devastating flood in 15 years.

Ten years later, those ambitious plans have taken shape. The city is now completing the 17-acre Riverfront Crossings Park on the site where the city’s north wastewater treatment plant once stood. The Riverfront Crossings neighborhood, which was planned following the flood in conjunction with the park plan, is booming with numerous development and redevelopment projects. And Iowa City’s Gateway project to elevate Dubuque Street and install a new Park Road bridge is nearing completion.

As the plans to rebuild have taken shape, so have the plans for where not to rebuild. Using FEMA’s flood buyout program, the city removed 90 homes from the Parkview Terrace Neighborhood, ensuring that homes would be permanently out of harm’s way from rising flood waters.

I’m proud of what we as a community have accomplished in the last 109 years. Yet, as impressive as these achievements are, the greater achievement in the wake of the flood and resulting loss was who we were — and still are — as a community. Flood recovery and response involved everyone — from kids to adults. As we often see, the disaster brought out the best in all of us.

And while I don’t want to ever see another disaster in Iowa City, I would like to see the level of community engagement, caring and support that the disaster provoked. I would laud and celebrate that as much as I will celebrate the completion of Riverfront Crossings Park or the opening of the new Park Road bridge. I leave that as a challenge for the second decade following the 2008 flood. Let’s remember that we have the creativity, resilience and strength to work together across differences to address our challenges, create big visions, and bring those visions into reality. What more proof do we need than what we’ve done together in the last 10 years in Iowa City?

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• Regenia D. Bailey is founder of the Bailey Leadership Initiative and was mayor of Iowa City in 2008.

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