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.

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