The Cedar Rapids City Council needs to examine the growth and livability of our city, and they need to do so with an eye to our future. We are an industrial city in many respects. Our factories and plants are a welcome source of livelihood and vital part of the city’s past, and its future. However, as “The Corridor” aims to attract good, stable jobs in emerging new industries, we need to consider the livability and desirability of our cities to the young graduates who will come to work those jobs. We also cannot overlook the benefits of thoughtful development to the current citizens of Cedar Rapids.
Green (and blue) spaces are incredibly important parts of major cities, forming cultural hearts, places to breath, places to take in natural beauty, often within walking or biking distance of jobs and homes. (Blue spaces are those along water.) Consider the Forest Preserves of Chicago, the Open Space Preserves of the San Francisco peninsula, or the biking and walking paths along the Mississippi River as it passes through Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The areas south and east of our downtown, along the Cedar, will become desirable areas for living and recreation as Cedar Rapids grows, assuming our goals with NewBo and other downtown revitalization are met. We have already put a lot of money into the Sac-Fox Trail and Prairie Park Fishery. Let’s not waste it. The Cedar River must be the heart of our green spaces, where we can kick back and relax, stretch our legs, breath, and watch the river pass.
It should be clear that the railyard does not support this vision. An industrial space cluttering our river is unacceptable in this day and age. Look to the hundreds of cities that are now (only now) spending major money to rebuild their waterfronts and riverways as places of relaxation and recreation. And our plan is to go the opposite direction? This seems backward. Who will want to live near it? Who will want to bike past? Who will want to fish in Prairie Park Fishery?
Using this space for industry represents an extremely short-sighted decision, throttling our green corridor along the river and wasting our already scarce natural resources. Undeveloped green space is a natural resource, and Cedar Rapids hasn’t thought hard enough about how to best use ours. Do we want our citizens to get fit and healthy, to get out of their cars, to take an interest in their city? I think so. The city needs to provide us with a serious plan to make our area truly livable, 20, 40, 80 years into the future. Plopping a railyard along the river, which will disrupt our green spaces, remove scarce natural habitat, inevitably flood and pollute water, and hurt the investments of local hardworking Cedar Rapidians, does not constitute good planning for the future of Cedar Rapids.
Jesse Ellis is a professor of Biology at Coe College