Building blocks

Working together to make Eastern Iowa a great place to live

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What makes a place great?

How can we make our communities better, more prosperous places?

How can we build on our unique strengths and local identity?

How can we make sure the places we call home are welcoming and inclusive? How can we work together to make our communities the best possible places to live?

The Gazette Editorial Board has been talking a lot about these questions in recent months. We are committed to exploring them deeply this year in Insight — in these pages, on our website, through events and outreach — and we’re asking for your help.

You’ve likely been to a city, town or region that just seemed to work exceptionally well. There was an excitement in the air — a sense of optimism, of cooperation, of everyone working together toward a common goal.

Even though each place is unique (in fact, we believe that building on local culture, knowledge and resources is one of the key components that go into making a place great), it seems to us that great places have a lot of things in common.

Here are a few that have come to our mind:

WELCOMING AND OPTIMISTIC

In places that really thrive, there’s a sense of communitywide optimism and trust. Even though people and groups don’t always see eye to eye, they respect different perspectives and differences of opinion; they can disagree without being disagreeable.

There’s an underlying sense of community pride and a willingness to work together to confront problems with honesty and persistence, and in good faith.

The people in great places have their eye on long-term solutions, not quick fixes. They make wise use of limited resources. Residents, elected and community leaders and institutions work together to solve problems and create new opportunities — they understand that nobody wins a turf war when you’re trying to build community. They are inclusive, cooperative and transparent.

In thriving communities, people work to create strong social bonds and reciprocal relationships in their personal lives, in their neighborhoods, through churches, clubs, organizations and other groups.

People feel they belong, that they matter and that they can have a positive impact on the community. They know how to organize to solve problems and how to engage with public decision-making bodies that represent them, and they do engage as a matter of personal pride and civic responsibility. Public institutions — schools, city and county governments and their employees — are transparent, open and receptive to public input. These same institutions understand that their success depends upon these behaviors.

PEOPLE-CENTERED PLACES

Great places have strong public infrastructure designed with people in mind. The infrastructure systems we often take for granted, like street repair and water systems, are well maintained.

Public transportation is safe and meets the riding public’s needs. Libraries, amenities, public art and green spaces are inspiring, welcoming and foster civic pride and inclusion. City districts and neighborhoods are well supported; design standards, planning and zoning decisions encourage public use.

These decisions are more than aesthetic. They help create the positive experiences and attitudes that are key to making a great place.

STRONG ECONOMIC FOUNDATION

Finally, thriving places have a strong, broad economic base that offers opportunities for all residents, no matter their level of education, age or other demographic details. The principles of place-making are integrated into the business community — companies and leaders understand that strong communities are key to the recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce, and their own bottom line.

FINDING OUR PLACE

So how are our communities working to develop the habits and resources that will help make our region great? Who is stepping forward, rolling up shirt sleeves, to build better communities? How can all of us help?

These are the questions we’ll be using as our guide this year. They will help us decide what issues to explore in our staff editorials. They’ll inform our selection of guest columns and community letters (see p. 2C).

We’ll make it our goal to help our readers and community leaders understand the importance of civic engagement and place-making and to see the larger picture.

We will work to connect people and groups who are working to solve local problems, identify solutions and rally others to the common cause of making this a great place to live.

We will work to help people understand how to meaningfully connect with local institutions and government, and hone their understanding of their rights and responsibilities.

We, individually and together, will actively engage in making our communities great.

We also are learning how to do this. So consider this your invitation — one we’ll continue to extend this year in different formats and different ways. Tell us:

How are you making your community a better, more prosperous place? How are you building on our unique strengths and local identity?

How are you making sure the place you call home is welcoming and inclusive?

How can we work together to make our communities the best possible places to live?

• Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us:(319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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