A vision of connectivity

The vision began with a thought to transform a riverfront filled with old buildings, grain bins, and a switchyard into a park that the citizens of Muscatine could be proud of and visitors would want to make a destination. Out of that, according to Steve Boka, former Community Development Director for the City of Muscatine, came the realization of a strong connection between the riverfront and Downtown Muscatine, and the need for a safer Mississippi Drive.

 

“The thought was that once we embarked on creating this park, that would create interest in redevelopment of our downtown,” Boka said. “At that time there was not much going on in the second stories of our downtown.”

 

The vision expanded with the realization that the park would attract people to the area and that would ignite investment into the downtown area. But to get from the park to downtown people needed a safe connection … a safer, more pedestrian friendly Mississippi Drive.

 

The City set to work on the improvements to the streets and other infrastructure. Eventually, when the private sector began investing in the downtown area, the infrastructure was there to support the improvements. The work on street improvements continues today with Mississippi Drive and will continue with a redesigned Carver Corner and reconstruction of the southern entrance to the City, the Grandview Avenue corridor.

 

“The riverfront, downtown improvements, and street improvements were a cooperative venture,” Boka said. “That is because the public improvements to the public sector that were undertaken encouraged the private sector to buy in and do private sector stuff. That is exactly as it should be done.”

 

The vision of a connected Riverside Park-Mississippi Drive-Downtown Muscatine was created and enhanced since the 1980s with public and private input along with public and private funding.  The development of Riverside Park with free parking (542 spaces), plenty of green space for people to enjoy, and other amenities was the initial project. For several reasons that free parking was not being utilized including people having to walk to the downtown area for work, shopping, or dining, and for the many safety concerns to pedestrians as they attempted to cross Mississippi Drive.

 

“The thought that really got us thinking more seriously about Mississippi Drive was that with the riverfront done we wanted to encourage people to take advantage of the downtown,” Boka said. “There just wasn’t any real good connectivity between the downtown and the riverfront.”

 

There was also no real safe way to get between the two areas because of the railroad corridor and the wide street that consisted of four lanes with little medians, on-street parking, and a driving public that was more concerned with getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

 

“You might as well put on your track shoes and race across the street before the light changed,” Boka said.

 

Most of the traffic lights on Mississippi Drive are gone now with just Iowa Avenue and Cedar Street remaining. That meant the motor public must be more willing to yield to pedestrian safety.

 

Safety was just one of the concerns addressed in the reconstruction of Mississippi Drive. Developing a corridor that would enhance the connection between the Mississippi River and the Muscatine central business district was important to the planners as was creating a roadway better able to remain open during occurrences of flooding.

 

In the early 1980s Mississippi Drive (named Front Street until the mid- to late-1970s) and Grandview Avenue were the main traffic route into and through Muscatine as U.S. 61 and Iowa 92. That changed when the bypass opened in 1985 taking U.S. 61 and most of the through traffic with it. The road along the river was designated as Business 61 but Iowa 92 was not removed from the Grandview Avenue/Mississippi Drive corridor and put onto the bypass until the fall of 2014.

 

The character and volume of traffic using the Grandview Avenue/Mississippi Drive corridor changed after the opening of the bypass according to the “Corridor Alignment and Geometric Alternative Analysis” performed by Stanley Consultants, Inc., as part of the Phase 1 Environmental Assessment and Preliminary Design for the City of Muscatine that was released in February 2012. Instead of a through route, the corridor became a destination route for residents and business traffic in the city.

 

In 2014 the city successfully negotiated with the State of Iowa for a transfer of jurisdiction that effectively ended the Business 61 and state highway designations, turning the corridor into a city street. The transfer of jurisdiction came with some cash ($13 million to the city) but it also came with an obligation to complete a number of elements that were placed in the project by the federal government.

 

Not only was the corridor traffic changing but so was the riverfront and downtown Muscatine.

 

Early efforts to enhance the downtown area focused on the creation of a park and recreational facilities along the riverfront. Approximately $19 million has been spent in public and private funds since 1983 transforming the riverfront into a destination. More enhancements are slated for Riverside Park in the coming years according to the updated master plan recently adopted by the Muscatine City Council.

 

“Now we are back with the second generation of the riverfront,” Boka said. “There are some good elements to the plan that is being brought forward now that we just couldn’t think about back then.”

 

Whether it was the need to reconstruct Mississippi Drive that led to the renaissance of the riverfront, downtown, and 2nd Street, or if it was one versus another, the key was that steps were taken with some prior effort to have everybody working together and on the same page.

 

“Creating this connection brings it all into focus,” Boka said. “It makes this area an attention maker, a destination, a source of pride, and a continual concern for the community so that it is maintained, improved, and used.”
Boka retired in 2014 after 37 years of service to the City of Muscatine most recently as the Director of Community Development. He was instrumental in the development of Riverside Park and has played a key role in the planning of Mississippi Drive, Carver Corner, and Grandview Avenue updates.

 

“Now that people can see our early vision of the park, it is easier for them to see the possibilities for the future,” Boka said. “That is the way it will be for Mississippi Drive and for the downtown area.”

 

The connector between the riverfront and downtown, Mississippi Drive, was the subject of numerous public meetings and City Council sessions before the plans were finalized. With the first two phases of the reconstruction effort completed, the street has reopened from Iowa Avenue west past Broadway, allowing the public an opportunity to see and experience the enhancements envisioned and created to spur interest in the downtown area.

 

It may take some time for citizens to become used to the change but they will come to appreciate the changes and the enhancements. The final two phases will see Mississippi Drive reconstructed to Mulberry, a round-about installed at the 2nd and Mulberry intersection, and 2nd Street reconstruction to the intersection with Iowa 92 at the Norbert F. Becky Bridge.

 

Yet to come are the 2018 public meetings on the design of the Carver Corner intersection and shape of the Grandview Avenue Corridor.

 

  • By Kevin Jenison, Communication Manager

 

 

 

 

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Voting is a right and a privilege

Tuesday is an important day for the citizens of Muscatine. It is Election Day with registered voters going to the polls to vote on who will be the mayor for the next two years along with selecting candidates to fill the three council seats that are on the ballot. Voting is the right and privilege of every U.S. citizen who has taken the time to register to vote, using their voice, anonymously, to select the leaders who have the future of Muscatine in their hands for the next two years.

The City of Muscatine believes strongly in this process and we participate by voting our conscious just as every citizen should. If you have not participated in this election yet, please make time to vote Tuesday.

The polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Muscatine. Residents in the First Ward (Precincts 1 & 2) and the Third Ward (Precincts 5 & 6) vote at the Muscatine Community School Administration Building (2900 Mulberry Avenue). Residents in the Second Ward (Precincts 3 & 4) vote at Clark House (117 West 3rd Street).  Residents in the Fourth Ward (Precincts 7 & 8) vote at Mulford Church (2400 Hershey). Residents in the Fifth Ward (Precincts 9 & 10) vote at the Muscatine Community College (MCC) McAvoy Center (1403 Park Avenue). Your voter registration card has your precinct number on it.

Voter registration has officially ended, but you can still register tand vote at the polling centers Tuesday with a photo ID and proof of residency. More information on registering and where to vote can be found at the Muscatine County Auditor’s web site by clicking here.

Municipal elections usually do not bring out the vote but they are just as important as any state or national election. Just 12 percent of registered voters made it to the polls for the 2015 election and just seven percent voted in a mayor’s race that was decided by 120 votes (820-700). Only six percent voted in 2011 and 11 percent in 2009. Voting for the council seats was equally disappointing but not inconsistent with municipal election trends.

The old adage still applies, though … if you don’t vote – don’t complain. Be sure to vote this year and offset the trends of the last several election cycles.

We hope that the citizens of Muscatine take this opportunity and express their hope for Muscatine’s future at the ballot box. We are all working toward the common goal … making Muscatine a better place to work, live, and raise a family … and your vote Tuesday will demonstrate your investment in that goal.

VOTE TUESDAY!

Transparency and the City

 

Much has been said about the word “transparency” in regards to city government or any level of government for that matter. Some say that the City of Muscatine needs to be more transparent with the citizens of the community. For me, I am not sure how much more “transparent” the City of Muscatine can be.

 

A year ago I came to this community courtesy of another organization that was in dire need of leadership and quality control. They had lost their edge in meeting the communication needs of the citizens they served and charged me with bringing their vision back into focus.

 

That association did not last long for a number of reasons but I was able to accomplish some of what I was brought in to do. When we parted ways, the organization had a renewed emphasis on local communication sprinkled with increased respectability and accountability to the people they serve. That organization continues to use many of my ideas today which should do them well if they follow the game plan.

 

While I was with that organization I had a chance to interact with many of the department heads and city administrator for the City of Muscatine. I tended to ask a lot of questions, some more brilliant than others, about transparency, Open Records, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Verification is, or was, an important part of my previous line of work. Even when presented with the facts and figures we wanted to dig a little deeper for verified verification.

 

Knowing the trail I wanted to follow and asking the right questions proved to be a great learning experience. I got my answers with a little leg work, a little persistence, and it did not cost me an arm or a leg.

 

The City of Muscatine has always been transparent. Most every piece of paper within City Hall is available for public inspection once it has been run through the legal gauntlet. But City staff knew that with the technology today, the City could do more. Thus the alliance with OpenGov that was unveiled last July and brought a whole new layer to the transparency table.

 

No longer was it necessary for an organization to file an Open Records request, pay a substantial fee (still lower than many other municipalities, state, or federal organizations charge), and then wait several weeks while the documents are found, and read for information that is not related to the request or information that could not legally be released to the public.

 

Today, if someone wants to know where the City is spending their tax dollars, they can click on the OpenGov icon on the City of Muscatine web site and view various kinds of financial data that is updated daily by the Finance Department. A user can drill down into the data, search for items of interest, and even look at the check book to see who was paid what. You can even download this information for later use. All for free and all from the comfort of your own home.

 

But that is not where transparency ends with the City of Muscatine.

 

Many citizens have contacted the City through emails, phone calls, or personal visits requesting information, filing complaints, or just wanting to speak with someone about an issue they have a concern about. Every department head, every administrator, every employee takes the time to listen and to help where they can. And if they cannot, they find someone who can.

 

The City of Muscatine is a business and like all businesses we rely on the people of Muscatine for our jobs. If we do not take the time to answer questions, to listen to problems, or to work for a mutually agreeable solution, we are not doing all we can for the citizens of Muscatine or our visitors. 

 

Transparency has been and will continue to be a vital part of our mission. Use OpenGov to view real time financial data. There is staff directory that lists email addresses and phone numbers of the various departments so if you have a question, fire it off. Make sure you properly identify yourself, put an appropriate phrase on the subject line, and you will receive an answer.

 

By Kevin Jenison, Communication Manager

 

 

Plenty of parking downtown, just follow the rules

In this motorized age of transportation where vehicular traffic once took precedence over pedestrian traffic, available parking can be an issue at any time and at any location. Drivers and/or the passengers want to park as close to their destination as possible. The further away they have to park, the angrier they become about the lack of adequate parking opportunities.

The City of Muscatine is no stranger to parking complaints but has established rules and regulations within Title VII of the City Code to address the issue. The City is also closely monitoring the use of free, metered, and lease parking opportunities in an ongoing study of the needs of the downtown area.

There are 1,427 parking spots in the downtown commercial district that stretches from Mulberry to Pine and from the Mississippi River to 4th Street.

No ParkingFree parking is located on 2nd Street for up to three hours once per day in each space. However parking is prohibited on 2nd Street from 2-6 a.m. seven days a week in the downtown commercial district. There are many reasons for the moratorium on parking during those four hours including cleanup from snow emergencies, trash collection, and trash cleanup after special events. A change in the shift commander at the Muscatine Police Department and concerns of business owners over parking opportunities for shoppers has brought a renewed emphasis on enforcing the regulations.

Those regulations are displayed on every block of 2nd Street but should there still be questions as to what the regulations are, please contact City Hall at 563-264-1550. Our friendly staff is ready and willing to advise on the guidelines for parking along 2nd Street.

Free parking is also located in Riverside Park where approximately 500 spaces are available and all just a short walk to downtown businesses. During Phase I of the Mississippi Drive Reconstruction Project pedestrian traffic from that parking area to the commercial district has been limited to the pedestrian crossings at Sycamore and at Cedar. It may be several more months before the pedestrian crossings at Iowa and Chestnut are usable due to the construction.

Six parking lots also surround the downtown commercial district with free, metered and leased parking spots available. For more information on leasing a parking space in one of these lots visit the Parking Department page at the City of Muscatine web site. The locations of the parking lots are: Lot #1 200 block of West 3rd Street; Lot #2 200 block of West 2nd Street; Lot #4 200 block of Mississippi Drive off of Sycamore Street; Lot #6 100 block of West 3rd Street; Lot #7 200 block of East 3rd Street; and Lot #8, 300 block of East 3rd Street.

Designated spaces in lots #2, #4, and #8 allow for free parking up to 3-4 hours once per day as marked. Most metered spaces have either a two hour limit (silver cap) or a 10-hour limit (red cap). Leased spaces for the public are available in lots #2, #4. #7, and #8. There are special lease rates for downtown residents. Contact the City of Muscatine Finance Department for more information.

There is always free parking on Saturdays and Sundays and the holidays that the City of Muscatine is closed.

A little walk is a good thing and the City envisions a time when walking to the downtown area will again be the activity of choice rather than driving round and round while searching for the nearest parking space.

The long range plan for the downtown commercial district is to make the area more pedestrian friendly. A balance between the flow of vehicles and the movement of pedestrians is one of the goals of the Mississippi Drive Reconstruction Project. Wider sidewalks with plenty of gathering places for shoppers, diners, residents, and visitors to gather and enjoy the historical nature of downtown Muscatine is part of that long range plan as is creating better access from the river front to the downtown area.

In the months to come residents and visitors will begin to have a better visualization of just how the Mississippi Drive Reconstruction Project ties in with enhancing the uniqueness of the downtown area. Other areas of the community are not left out of the City’s long range goals. Increasing the flow of visitors to the downtown area will also create an increased flow to other venues in this community – north, south, east, or west.

In the meantime, if you able, try parking a little further away and walking to your destination. Opportunities to park are usually more abundant on the outskirts of the downtown commercial district. The little bit of exercise you get may ease that road rage of parking.

One of the most often quoted phrases is “the best is yet to come” and that fits perfectly for the residents and visitors of Muscatine.

Online or on the phone, we are here to listen

The City of Muscatine website has a wealth of information that will answer most questions posed by concerned citizens. There are times, however, when the answer to a question is not fully available. When this happens, citizens can contact the City of Muscatine for a better explanation.

All too frequently we see items posted on social media sites that some residents of the community are having difficulty in communicating their comments, concerns, or ideas to the City of Muscatine. We regret that some citizens find it difficult to ask questions or relay information to City of Muscatine staff, and we would like these individuals to know that we appreciate their desire to help us better serve Muscatine. We appreciate all the residents of Muscatine along with their questions, comments, and ideas on how to make Muscatine even better.

Here are the top ways to communicate your comments, concerns, or ideas to the City of Muscatine:

CALL US

The quickest avenue to connect with the City of Muscatine is to call City Hall at 563-264-1550 and ask for the department where your comment, concern, or idea resides. If a staff member is unavailable you may leave a voice mail with your name, address, phone number, and your comment, concern, or idea. City staff listens to their voice mail regularly and responds according to the issue raised. Just make sure to leave your name, address, and phone number so that the City can contact you for more information if needed.

A list of departments can be accessed under the Government tab of the City of Muscatine web site.

COMMUNITY VOICE

A second method of contact is an excellent but little used protocol on the City of Muscatine web site called Community Voice. The Community Voice button is located on the front page of the web site and with just a click of the button you will be taken to the Community Voice page. Here you will be able to post your comment, concern, or idea under one of the initiative categories listed or as a general comment.

Bear with us … this is a new section to our web site and we are working to be just as comfortable using it as you are.

Once you type in your comment, concern, or idea, click on “Next Step”. This will open a new window where you will be prompted to register with your email address or to create a profile. This is a security measure and your email address and/or profile will not be used by the City of Muscatine for any purpose other than communicating our response to your comment, concern, or idea. However, you do need to register for your comment, concern, or idea to be posted.

We do monitor Community Voice and believe that it is a great way to express ideas or suggests changes to the City of Muscatine.

Community Voice

EMAIL THE DEPARTMENT

A third way to communicate your comment, concern, or idea to the City of Muscatine is by email. On our web site you will find a page for each department within the City of Muscatine and on that page is an email address. Copy the email link to your email program and send your comment, concern, or idea to that department. All email is read (and we even check our spam folders) and each department does respond as time and the situation warrants.

A staff directory is located here.

SOCIAL MEDIA

The City of Muscatine uses social media to keep Muscatine residents informed and to connect with the citizens on a variety of issues. The City utilizes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media sites to tell the story of what we do, why we do it, and who we do it for. Facebook is our most popular social media site and offers the ability to message the City. Of course you can tag the City in most social media sites and we do monitor all of them.

We will be unveiling a new section in July that will increase the transparency between City government and the citizens of Muscatine. OpenGov.com will be featured on our front page and allow a citizen access to financial and statistical reports created by City staff. These are the same reports that City Council and the Mayor receive. We will have more on this opportunity in the weeks to come.

COMMUNICATE WITH ELECTED OFFICIALS

An additional way of presenting your comments, concerns, or ideas to the City of Muscatine is to contact the elected officials whose contact information is also available on the City web site.

A list of emails for City Council members is located on the City Council page.  Information for contacting the mayor is located on the Mayor page.

YOUR VOICE IS HEARD

The City of Muscatine welcomes comments, concerns, and ideas from residents and visitors to this community. No question is left unanswered, no concern is too small,  and no idea is not discussed. Communicate with us. We are listening.

 

My hometown could learn from Muscatine

Riverfront Park - playgroundOver the weekend I had the opportunity to return to my hometown for a short visit with family and friends. It has been eight months since I moved to Muscatine, but it seems like years since I left the county seat (population 8,000) surrounded by farm land that I lived in for 55 years. The town does not sit on the banks of a river but it does have a medium size lake on which my dad taught me how to sail and how to fish and I taught my children the same and even taught them how to swim.

Muscatine is about three times the size of Paris (Illinois, not France), sits on a world famous river, and has endless possibilities for young and old alike. Realistically the two communities have little in common. Beyond that surface reality, however, is a commonality shared by the people – rich, middle-class, and poor – a common vision to create a better lifestyle for current residents and for future residents.

Downtown Paris is not the bustling center of activity that it once was, but most central business districts suffered from the mobility offered by the automobile and the convenience of malls. Nearly half of the buildings have been dismantled and hauled off to the landfill, leaving empty spaces of dirt and broken bricks or parking lots that hardly anyone uses. Some of these “lost” buildings had historical significance, others did not. Many could have been repurposed but the vision was not there.

Beacon coming downThe fact that the downtown area is a mere shadow of itself was depressing to me as I drove through and remembered the store fronts, store owners, and merchandise offered during the days of my youth. Sadly, the march of time does not stop for anyone or anything.

In my position with the City of Muscatine I can look back into the archives and see what Muscatine has accomplished particularly over the last 20 years. I can only try to imagine what my hometown would be like if the same principles of placemaking were used to create a comfortable, attractive, and secure environment.

Muscatine does benefit from sitting on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and by having a public park that few communities can boast of or call their ‘front porch”. Yet it is another value of this community that would have benefited my hometown the most … the combining of public and private investment in building restoration, housing development, and small business growth. This is what has ignited the revitalization of Muscatine’s downtown. Those efforts would work well in Paris.

Creating and enhancing diverse use areas such as Riverside Park complimented with an avenue that will balance pedestrian and automotive traffic, and adding a downtown area strengthened visually and economically to be centers of social interaction is exactly the direction Muscatine is going. That is the direction my hometown needs to go too.

I have always enjoyed nature (must be the Boy Scout in me) and empty spaces would be better served with a heaping helping of landscaping (grass, trees, plantings, walkways) rather than remaining a barren wasteland or a parking lot. Muscatine has seen the benefit of such a philosophy in increased property values and increased foot traffic to the small businesses in the downtown corridor. The public and private efforts, which now include the Mississippi Drive reconstruction and the development of a quiet zone through downtown, continue the placemaking principles that are advancing across the country.

Many people have talked about saving the downtown in Paris. Even though there is a great awareness of this need, the vision and the support has not surfaced. Yes it took time to create that vision and develop the support structure here in Muscatine, but that just demonstrates the endless possibilities that are available to any community that has public and private entities willing to work for a better life for every citizen of that community.

Whether you agree with the philosophy or not, you must agree that green space, pedestrian walkways, the customer service found only in small businesses, the availability of downtown apartments, and other amenities are benefiting Muscatine, not only the downtown area but throughout the community. The economy is doing well alongside the banks of the Mississippi.

It is my hope that at some point when I have a chance to go home again I will see these same principles taking root in Paris. Nothing is ever as it was but something can be better than it is.

Muscatine residents should be proud of their local government and the many private citizens from all walks of life who want to enrich this community and make it better for individuals and families, for the young to the old, for current residents and residents of the future, and for all visitors to this area.

By Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager Pro Tem

Green spaces IS the life for me

From 1965 through 1971, television viewers were treated to the antics of two city dwellers who moved to the country in the CBS-TV sitcom “Green Acres”. While the husband (Eddie Albert) longed for the rustic farm life, his sophisticated wife (Eva Gabor) longed to be back in the city and patiently waited for her husband to come to his senses.

I remember watching the show but never paid attention to a hidden message lodged deep within the comical scripts … the constant battle between the concrete jungle and green spaces.

green-acresThis “hidden” message was unique in retrospect as I realized that it was during this time period that the affordability of the automobile led to the ability to travel greater distances which ultimately aided in the creation of great gathering places called shopping malls.

In Paris, Illinois (population 8,500), we still had our small businesses (or mom and pop stores if you prefer) in the downtown area and frequently spent most of our available money there. However, sometimes my parents would opt for a family adventure by loading my brothers and I up in the old station wagon and visiting one of those malls. This event also included a family dinner at a restaurant which was a different experience in itself but never reached the quality of food that my mom fixed most every night at home.

In the year’s since, cities small to large have struggled keeping the mom and pop stores alive and their downtown areas an attractive and integral part of the community. Some small businesses were able to survive, others were not. Downtown areas were lucky if they had 50 percent occupancy and the ripple effect of this downturn extended into neighborhoods throughout the community.

Fortunately, that trend is changing.

This is where the image of Eddie Albert in his business suit with a pitch fork in hand standing in front of an old farm house comes to mind. His need for green space convinced him that he needed to move to the “fresh air” of the country life. The need for green space, a more relaxed atmosphere, and a less hectic lifestyle is something that we all seek whether a business owner, a business professional, or just parents who want more for their family.

Many city officials have realized that one key to the vitality of their community is downtown businesses and an area geared more for the pedestrian than the automobile. The decisions by these officials have opened up doors and possibilities that have seen small specialty shops and restaurants make a comeback.

Muscatine is on the right track as the Riverside Park Master Plan update meeting on May 10 can attest. The energy and excitement of the presenters, the ideas from those in the audience, and the desire to connect the park physically and mentally to the downtown area makes perfect sense.

The park is Muscatine’s front porch, the destination for many residents and visitors alike, and we must do all we can to enhance the green space, the pedestrian connection to downtown,  and to create a positive environment for reinvestment in the downtown area.

The continued development of Riverside Park along with the Mississippi Drive reconstruction project continue the idea of placemaking and enhance the pedestrian connection from the Mississippi River to the downtown area. Placemaking is the idea of creating spaces where anyone can feel comfortable and enjoy the space. Social interaction enhances our experience of the world around us, but that interaction cannot take place in the hustle and bustle of most urban environments.

With the continued evolution of Riverside Park, the more pedestrian friendly Mississippi Drive corridor, and a yet to be determined upgrade to the amenities (plants, etc.) on 2nd Street, Muscatine is providing the space where people can congregate, enjoy nature, enjoy social interaction, and enjoy a historic downtown environment.

Green spaces is the life for me … and you.

The many benefits of trees

In recognition of National Arbor Day (Friday, Apr. 28), Parks and Recreation Director Richard Klimes offered the following on the value of trees to the citizens of Muscatine.

Trees near Marina

The dictionary definition of a tree is very vague: “a woody perennial plant, typically having a single stem or trunk growing to a considerable height and bearing lateral branches at some distance from the ground.”

However, trees are much more than that.

The definition provides a physical description but trees are more than just a pretty thing to look at throughout the seasons. Trees provide many benefits from climate control, to health benefits, to renewing the environment around them.

Trees help combat climate change. Not only do they produce oxygen to clean and renew our air, trees cycle out carbon dioxide caused by pollution. With air quality and climate control being a persistent public health issue, trees are needed to improve air quality. Trees can absorb many odors and pollutant gases as the leaves and bark trap these particulates and release healthy oxygen.

Trees provide a shaded halo around them. Conifers (evergreens) do this year round whereas deciduous trees (trees which shed their leaves) have a particular season they create shade. The canopy cover of a location can cool the ground temperature around it or cool pavement if it is a street tree. A large area of the ground shaded also becomes an area protected from harmful UV rays and reduces risks of cancer.

Shade can also have an effect on a Muscatine home’s energy output by cooling the house naturally in the summer allowing the air conditioning to run less and reducing energy use. They become a benefit in the winter by creating a wind block allowing the heating system to have a break as well. Harvested trees can be used as natural heat sources. This in turn reduces carbon dioxide emissions with less demand for energy from power plants.

Trees help with many water issues. They create shade for lawns which slows water evaporation allowing turf to utilize water longer with less stress. Trees are like a sponge during times of rain fall by absorbing many pollutants from storm water runoff before the pollutants can travel to drainage areas and eventually meet a larger body of water. By absorbing a quantity of water during rain falls, trees also help prevent erosion throughout the Muscatine community. The roots themselves become a soil stabilizer as well as a water absorbent.

Trees provide food and habit for wildlife as well as for humans. Many of the fruits we love are grown on trees and shipped to our local grocery stores. There are also trees which bear nuts as there fruit which provides a healthy snack. All of these fruits must be harvested, packaged, and shipped which creates jobs and a better economy.

Trees also help the Muscatine economy by providing jobs requiring maintenance. Trees require proper planting and designing to have a healthy start to life. They also need pruning and preventative maintenance to sustain that healthy life, especially in an urban setting. Eventually trees meet the end of their life cycle and will need to be removed and chipped up to become mulch. All of these processes require personal and provide job opportunities.

Trees provide a healthier mental state by improving our physical and mental wellbeing. Well populated tree areas have been shown to have less violence while hospitals have seen better healing and attitudes.

Yes trees do provide many aesthetic benefits as well. They provide Muscatine with a colorful border or a screen to block an unsightly view. They can make a concrete parking lot softer in texture and less harsh. They muffle sounds from our nearby streets. Trees, as well as landscaping in general, provides an environment which increases Muscatine’s property values.

Staff from the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Muscatine completed the treatment for the Emerald Ash Borer on all trees in Weed Park, Riverfront, Cemetery, City Hall and all outside parks last fall.  Seventy trees were treated and the treatment will last us for approximately three years. With the help of donations to the City, city staff has planted and transplanted 200 trees into Air Pots in our nursery.  Approximately 300 trees are currently being housed in the nursery at Park Maintenance and 25 in the nursery at the Muscatine Municipal Golf Course.  These trees will be planted throughout the parks system as they continue to grow and develop.

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.