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Opportunity knocks. And behind the door: Ideas to make Muscatine better

Opportunity knocks. And behind the door: Ideas to make Muscatine better

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MUSCATINE, Iowa — On Thursday afternoon, students from the University of Iowa's School of Urban and Regional Planning gave Muscatine officials and residents a look at the city's possible future — a future that might have "opportunity around every bend."

The crowd of around 20 people heard three separate groups making presentations on different planning and marketing strategies for  Muscatine, part of their work for the school's program known as the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities. The project presentations were part of the final year of the student's two-year program, focusing on field work rather than classroom work.

Riverfront

The first group proposed a revised riverfront, designed to provide more opportunities for public use of Riverside Park and a better integration with the downtown area. After considering three themed plans — Working Ecosystem, Arts and Entertainment, and Fitness — they elected to go with the first concept. They said the plan fits in better with the existing natural surroundings; for example, using native plants that are easier to maintain and are able to withstand the frequent flooding on the riverfront.

"We aren't advocating a total return to the wild by any means," said Caitlin Shanahan, a member of the team.

Other recommendations for the plan included the relocation of the Muscatine Farmers Markets to the riverfront, a unified corridor down Iowa Avenue that connects the park to Downtown Muscatine, a river stairs area, and an events tent that could be easily set up and taken down.

Biking/walking trails and paths

The second proposal featured a plan to improve bike and pedestrian traffic within the city. Among their top 10 recommendations and ideas for trails were paths from Cedar Street to the riverfront, paths along Lincoln Boulevard or Grand Avenue to serve the Park Avenue area, a future bypass crossing that could connect to the existing Mississippi River Trail, connecting the Mad Creek Trail to the Muscatine Mall area, and filling gaps in the city's existing trail and path system in northeast Muscatine, the outer areas of downtown Muscatine, near Franklin Elementary School, and the area around Grandview and Hershey avenues.

In addition, the group proposed that the city adapt a way-finding smartphone application that could be used by visitors to Muscatine to help find their way around the community.

Marketing

A renewed marketing plan to sell living in the city, especially to young professionals without families who haven't received much attention from previous marketing efforts, was the focus of the third project.

"It's going to take a lot of work to bring these young professionals here," said group member Lauren Patnoe.

Their research included talking to local business leaders in Muscatine and Dubuque — which the group mentioned as a community similar to Muscatine that has worked at rebranding itself — as well as surveys and focus groups of local residents.

As a result of that research, the group noted that most residents chose Muscatine as a place to live due to work and proximity to their work, while some reasons they did not live here included issues with local education, lack of public transport and cultural opportunities.

After considering three different possible new slogans for the city, the group decided on "Opportunity around every bend," which they said blended the past history of the community with the new opportunities they looked to promote.

After they're graded, the projects, including the data they collected and their research materials, will be sent to the city, said Muscatine Director of Community Development Steve Boka.

"The students did a wonderful job," Boka commented after the presentations. "They obviously did their homework."

Nick Benson, the program coordinator, said students work in different communities every year as part of the program. Next year, he expects students to put together proposals for Sioux City, Decorah and Iowa City.

"The big thing is that it gives them the ability to practice what they have learned in class," Benson said, also noting that the public presentations give the students experience in interacting and communicating with the public, skills that they will find themselves putting to use in the workplace soon enough.

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