Cedar Rapids? Are you listening?
Next month, I will be celebrating my 40th birthday. I live in the house I grew up in after purchasing it from my father in 2005. Here, my wife and I raise our three daughters/step-daughters. Needless to say, we’re vested in our neighborhood and, of course, the Mount Vernon Road Corridor. So although to many I may still seem young but in terms of tenure in my neighborhood, I have everyone around here beat.
On June 16 at 5:15 p.m., I took a break from tending the gardens in the backyard and begin the 6 block trek from my home on 35th street SE to All Saints Elementary for the public meeting for Mount Vernon Road Community Vision — a long title for an even longer gathering. By 5:20 p.m., it was apparent that this would be a crowded event. The first 100 people through the door were handed wireless keypads which would later be used for voting during the presentation. The All Saints Gymnasium was equipped with tables and chairs for just over 100 guests. The back half of the gym was lined with maps and illustrations that presented basic information about the Mount Vernon Road corridor which extends roughly from 44th street SE to 10th street SE.
At 5:35 the gymnasium was packed with nearly 300 concerned and curious Southeast-siders. We flocked to maps of the corridor which were equipped with red and green stickers and sticky notes. Red stickers were to be placed in areas that posed concern. Green stickers were to be placed in areas that were perceived as having opportunity for improvement. To explain the concerns and opportunities, sticky notes were then attached explaining the viewers’ thoughts. From a distance, one could easily see areas of concern, such the intersection at 19th Street.
At 5:45, the presentation began. After a brief introduction of the folks with Confluence, the company overseeing the study, we quickly moved onto the meat of the presentation. This began with a series of multiple-choice questions we were supposed to answer on our keypads. Questions were worded badly, the voting process was miscommunicated, and only a fraction of those in attendance were able to vote. We were very much like an unruly kindergarten classroom.
After that, we broke out into small groups to define strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats provided by the current state of the Mount Vernon Road Corridor. Each group was facilitated by intern from HR Green or the city. However, as the clock ticked closer to 7 p.m., people started wondering about next steps. We began to ask the question only to find out that our breakout session was the final task of the evening.
What do I take from this gathering? I heard several people in the crowd ask some version of the question, “Why is the city even bothering with such an event? They’re just gonna do what they want to anyway.” I began to start wondering the same. Will the city do what they want, even after receiving our feedback? Does the city truly understand our passion for our neighborhoods and the improvements we would like to see?
Years ago, I was involved in a little-known project that happened under Jim Prosser’s leadership. It was called the Citizens Feedback Network. In it, 8-10 passionate citizens would meet with Mr. Prosser’s secretary and a leader of city departments to talk about issues such as transportation, communication and leadership. Then the floodwaters came and as they receded, they took the CFN along.
Here’s my plea to our community leaders. Let’s explore how to better handle the passions of our citizens. Let’s find new ways to allow us to communicate with you effectively. Let’s have our voices heard and our feedback come to fruition. Let’s all have the ability to look forward to that moment when we can point at a change being made in the city and shout this statement to the nearest available ear, “Hey! I helped make that happen!”
• Dan Alpers is a life-long Cedar Rapidian raising three girls while staying busy in his gardens and brainstorming ways to make a positive difference in our community. COmments: firstname.lastname@example.org