116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — In the warmer weather months, Monica Vallejo often sees immigrant families playing soccer, children using the playground and groups shooting hoops at Cedar Rapids’ Delaney Memorial Park in the southwest quadrant.
Delaney Park is the only open green space in the Westdale area — roughly between 16th and First Avenues SW in the north to Highway 30 and Williams Boulevard SW in the south, to 80th Street SW in the west and Edgewood Road SW in the east. It’s a focal point of this quickly growing part of Cedar Rapids.
Vallejo, the president of the Westdale Area Neighborhood Association, said in recent years, she’s worked with the City of Cedar Rapids to push for improvements to Delaney Park — more sidewalks, streetlights, garbage cans and recreational amenities.
There are high levels of social vulnerability in the area, though, meaning there are large swaths of the Westdale area where residents are low-income, lack vehicle access, have a lower English proficiency or have disabilities.
For those who lack resources, Vallejo said, they need to be able to enjoy the resources available. That means Delaney Park — with its playground, basketball court and athletic field — is especially important to these residents.
“My focus is that families have a place to … entertain the kids and be safe,” Vallejo said.
Expanded amenities at and improved connectivity to Delaney Park are among the priorities outlined in the recently city council-adopted Westdale Area Action Plan, which will guide growth of city services and infrastructure in the area in the coming years.
Since the 1960s, the area has seen rapid development. Now, it’s a mix of commercial and industrial uses, new multifamily housing and mobile home parks. Big box stores mark the commercial spaces, and other restaurants, ethnic grocers and smaller retailers add to the Westdale area’s offerings.
As this growth continues, sidewalk connectivity, pedestrian crossings, streetlights, transportation access and green space are among the improvements to infrastructure and amenities Westdale area stakeholders deemed necessary in feedback to the city.
In 2020, the derecho’s hurricane-force winds hit this part of town particularly hard. Some apartment complexes were destroyed — their roofs ripped off, windows shattered, insulation strewn across the ground.
Units sheltering immigrant and refugee households, as well as other vulnerable populations, in particular were in ruins after the unprecedented storm — laying bare to city officials the inequities and social needs that weigh on a large share of the Westdale area population.
“When you look at that side of town, it’s folks that are doing their best but at the same time, there are many people who are there because of affordability, because of the apartments that are there,” said Mugisha Gloire, executive director of United We March Forward, a local nonprofit that works with Cedar Rapids’ immigrant population.
Council member Ashley Vanorny — who represents District 5, which encompasses the Westdale area — said before the storm, “we didn’t have necessarily eyes on people” here, so the derecho reinforced some needs that have long existed.
The action plan is an opportunity to incorporate citizen input and elevate residents’ voices to make meaningful changes that affect their daily lives, she said.
“There are very few opportunities in government where we get to do something that’s earth-shattering or that completely revamps the system, but it’s about making these small improvements that enhance the quality of life,” Vanorny said. “That’s what we’re going to keep doing in the Westdale Area Neighborhood Association boundaries.”
The plan — which began to be drafted in 2021 and was adopted in December — calls for better connectivity, including:
- Improve walkability, accessibility and connectivity in the area
- Improve active transportation options
Action steps would include construction of pedestrian infrastructure along Wilson Avenue SW, improving pedestrian access to Delaney Park, prioritizing trails and making transit amenity and wayfinding enhancements.
Additionally, the plan recommends enhancements to land use and place-making:
- Increase public, recreational and green space in the area
- Support existing and the development of neighborhood centers
- Celebrate the diversity of the area
Among the action steps is improving Delaney Park amenities and creating a new park as part of the new westside Cedar Rapids Public Library and Opportunity Center project on 27 acres of land at the corner of 20th Avenue and Wiley Boulevard SW.
The new library is key to accomplishing other action steps, such as offering programming that highlights the area’s diversity and reinforcing neighborhood centers — areas where many daily amenities can be obtained.
Work is already underway on the westside library. The city contributed $6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, and Linn County awarded $4 million in ARPA funds to the $25 million project.
Gloire said there’s a need for more community centers that can improve access to resources such as food, housing and employment.
He said the area should be celebrated for assets it already has, including several ethnic restaurants and grocery stores — including Cedar Rapids African & Oriental Market and Eggroll House Chinese Restaurant on Wiley Boulevard SW, and Don Miguel Tienda Mexicana on Westdale Drive SW, to name a few.
It’s important to figure out “how do we celebrate the diversity and how do we look at ways to support that community there,” Gloire said.
Vanorny said the action plan is a testament to the strength of the Westdale Area Neighborhood Association. She and Vallejo said they hope potential public-private partnerships can help move the needle faster on some items, including Delaney Park improvements.
“That’s what I want to see — neighbors help neighbors,” Vallejo said.
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