Walkability over driveability

04-25-17 Green Space - Riverfront Park
Green spaces like this one at Riverfront Park allow individuals to enjoy social interaction and nature along the banks of the Mississippi River. The wide sidewalks, sitting areas, play areas, and landscaping add to the walkable nature of the park. These and similar concepts will be used as the City of Muscatine continues its efforts to transform the downtown business district and other areas of the community into more pedestrian friendly gathering places.

It should not be a surprise to anyone that the City of Muscatine has, as one of their goals, the development of placemaking projects that will maintain local amenities for residents while also attracting and retaining a quality workforce. The placemaking philosophy, an idea that changes the emphasis of urban design from automobile traffic to pedestrian traffic, guides the public and private sectors of Muscatine in the development of plans for the riverfront, the downtown area, and the community as a whole.


Walkability is not a new concept, just one that ran up against the rise of the automobile in the 20th century. Urban development patterns also changed more affordable cards made driveability more important than walkability. Driveability also had a hand in families moving out of the older, more established, and walkable cities and into suburbs that featured stretches of single family homes surrounded by green space where the family could live while driving to work, to school, to shop, or do just about any errand they might have on their to-do list.


That trend began to change as we moved into the 21st century. The City of Muscatine and other visionaries saw this change develop and created long-range goals that would return the concept of placemaking and walkability to the forefront of discussions for all future infrastructure and other city projects. The creation of Riverfront Park was one of the first steps to creating these people friendly venues along with the development of walkable trails, the Complete Street policy, and the revitalization efforts for the downtown business district.


One of the great assets of Muscatine is Riverfront Park with its green space, public areas that invite social interaction, and the walking and bike trails that can take you to Weed Park in one direction and will eventually lead to Deep Lakes Park in the other direction. The reconstruction of Cedar, Colorado, Mulberry, and now Mississippi Drive are all part the efforts by the City to make Muscatine safer and more user-friendly for walkers, joggers, bicycle enthusiasts, and citizens of all ages.


In the future the concepts of placemaking and walkability will be extended into the downtown area as the sidewalks and landscape along 2nd Street are reshaped to create a more pedestrian friendly environment. The effort to revitalize the downtown business district is based on several studies which suggest that neighborhoods that mix small shops and restaurants with residential availability are prone to economic growth. That means the spirit of entrepreneurship that is well established in Muscatine can continue to grow and prosper as more money is spent locally and more jobs are created. It also helps the environment.


Between the continued development of Riverfront Park and the 2nd Street project in the next year or two, is the Mississippi Drive Reconstruction Project which officially begins on Monday, May 8. If you have not yet had an opportunity to view the plans for the redesigned automobile traffic pattern along the riverfront you owe it to yourself to do so at your earliest convenience . That opportunity just happens to be Tuesday, May 2, at the Riverview Center from 5:30-7:30 p.m.


The use of landscaping and modern traffic design to create a balance between the necessities of automotive traffic and pedestrian traffic will be a huge benefit to the entire community. The design elements being implemented on Mississippi Drive will be used in other projects slated to begin in the next several years. And the use of Mississippi Drive as a connection between the river front and the downtown business district will yield plenty of economic benefits as well.


We will continue to look at the placemaking ideas and the use of walkable neighborhoods in future blog posts.

Placemaking in the city

Mississippi DriveAnyone who travels across the Norbert F. Beckey Bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River from Illinois Highway 92 to Iowa Highway 92 is treated to a spectacular view of the Muscatine riverfront just downstream from the bridge. There are few river towns that can claim to have such a wondrous entrance to their city yet Muscatine knows the best is yet to come.

Over 20 years ago you would not have had the same reaction to seeing the Muscatine riverfront from that bridge as you do today. An aging industrial center with a railroad switching yard and a declining downtown did little to inspire visitors to stop and stay for a while. That has changed through the efforts of the City of Muscatine along with many individuals and organizations who donated time, ideas, and in some cases money, to the vision of transformation.

The vision of transforming what was once a decaying industrial area into a welcoming public space began with the achievement of the city’s initial riverfront redevelopment goals that included moving the switch yard, cleaning up decades of waste accumulation, and the initial design and development of what was to become Riverfront Park. The park continues to be developed as a welcoming green, public space where the young and old can enjoy outdoor activities and the majesty of the Mississippi River.

The development of the park is just one milestone that has created a welcoming atmosphere for visitors to and residents of the City of Muscatine. Creative minds have come together over the past several years to revitalize the downtown area, primarily along 2nd Street where store fronts that were nearly 50 percent vacant a few years ago now have thriving businesses in them with just a few openings left. In between is the Mississippi Drive project that is expected to begin in May.

Why is there this focus on the downtown area? What is the connection between these areas that will add value to the residents of Muscatine?

The guiding force behind the development of these areas is placemaking, an idea that is not really new but one that has gained increasing value in recent years. The Project for Public Spaces defines placemaking as “a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared values.”  We think of it as creating areas when pedestrian traffic is more important than vehicle traffic and areas where people can gather to socialize in a relaxing atmosphere is more important than traffic flow.

The historic nature of downtown Muscatine and the mystique of the Mississippi River lends itself to the creation of these public spaces, areas where people can walk safely, gather together, share memories, and enjoy the comradery that Iowans are famous for.

The development of Riverfront Park and the economic upswing of the 2nd Street area are two important parts of the placemaking process. So is the reconstruction of Mississippi Drive which, when complete, will create a better and safer connection between the river and downtown businesses.

We will discuss placemaking in future blog posts and define the collective vision that drives this effort not only for the downtown area but other areas in Muscatine. The concept will rekindle and revitalize the energy surrounding Muscatine and, hopefully, draw more and more people to visit and to stay.

A couple of reminders … a public meeting on the upcoming Mississippi Drive Corridor Reconstruction Project is tentatively scheduled for May 2 (time and place to be announced) and a public meeting on the latest Riverfront Master Plan is scheduled for May 10 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Riverview Center, 110 Harbor Drive, Muscatine, Iowa.