As candidates vying for America’s highest elected office come to the City of Five Seasons they can look to Cedar Rapids as a model of how people of various political beliefs have come together to develop and implement sound public policy that lifts an entire community.
The story of our city is one of resilience and recovery. On June 13, 2008, the Cedar River crested at 31.12 feet reaching its highest level in the history of Cedar Rapids. Floodwaters penetrated 10 square miles or 14 percent of the city causing economic damage totaling $5.4 billion. This monumental natural disaster impacted 7,198 parcels of land, including 5,390 houses, and displaced more than 18,000 residents. In addition to the devastated residential and business properties, all local government facilities were crippled, and our arts and cultural assets were displaced or destroyed. Life as we knew it would never be the same.
Although the 2008 flood was catastrophic, the recovery has been impressive. From the very beginning the City of Cedar Rapids has been committed to engaging all sectors of the community including Democrats, Republicans and independents in every step of the recovery process. Immediately after floodwaters receded, the City Council together with 2,600 concerned citizens and business leaders came together to establish the “Cedar Rapids Flood Recovery and Reinvestment Plan” setting up a vision for building a more vibrant and flourishing urban landscape all while reducing future flood risk throughout the city. Community engagement included everything from work sessions and open houses to online discussion boards, stakeholder presentations and one-on-one meetings.
Our main focus was placed on flood-stricken neighborhoods to address our residents’ immediate needs and concerns. Together with community leaders we were able to create a plan for redevelopment of flood-ravaged neighborhoods all while planning for our community’s protection against future flooding. We have made great strides with improvements to our infrastructure by incorporating aesthetic elements that reflect our community’s culture, history, and vision.
While we are protecting our community and reducing flood risk, the Flood Control System which is designed to transport the same water volume as the Flood of 2008 also will incorporate recreational uses such as trails, greenway space, and an amphitheater to be enjoyed by residents and tourists for generations to come. When fully complete the system will include a combination of flood walls, levees, gates and removable walls on both the west and east side of the river.
Over a decade after the Flood of 2008 the community of Cedar Rapids has rebuilt, been revitalized, and proven itself to be stronger and more resilient than ever before. There is no way to prevent natural disasters such as floods from occurring. However, there are ways to help ensure that the recovery process is one of public and private collaboration. We have positioned ourselves to be prepared and have created an environment in City Rapids that will attract and retain businesses and citizens for years to come.
I am proud to say that we are a stronger and more vibrant city today than we were in 2008. I am proud of how the community of Cedar Rapids stepped up to secure the safety, vitality and prosperity of our great city for future generations. I am proud to continue to work alongside our city council and the great citizens of Cedar Rapids to ensure we are ready for any obstacle or challenge thrown our way.
Brad Hart is mayor of Cedar Rapids.