“Early in the evenin’ just about supper time, Over by the courthouse they’re starting to unwind.
Four kids on the corner trying to bring you up.
Willy picks a tune out and blows it on the harp.” – Creedence Clearwater Revival, Down on the Corner
Before the residents of the Randolph Hotel were relocated to make way for redevelopment, the bench on the corner of 4th and Court next to the Ronald Reagan plaque always seemed to be their gathering spot. I often felt that the group who would gather on that corner – mostly men of middle age, maybe a little rough around the edges but far from unfriendly – were the unofficial greeters to the Court Avenue District.
Would you rather see young hipsters for residents in the refurbished Randolph? Or should anyone at all be hanging out on the corner?
Those questions occurred to me at a recent meeting of the DNA. Developers had visited our board meeting to present their plans to transform the empty block across the street into a full-service Hy-Vee with upper floor apartments.
Hoping to allay the fears of residents and others sick to their stomach at the thought of a suburban parking lot downtown, the Knapp/Hy-Vee team presented a proposal to tie the surface lot to the urban street scene with trees, landscape features, and park benches. Our neighborhood police officer – who attends every board meeting and is a passionate, active voice in the downtown neighborhood – cringed.
Obviously, the officer has extensive experience in this area, and can point to research and experience of the negative effects of loitering in urban areas and the nuisance that public benches might create. But don’t we need public spaces for people to sit and gather?
As with many things, I’m sure there is a right balance to be struck. Finding that balance starts with a conversation – and that is what the DNA provides. Through our socials, our board meetings (which are open to members and are often visited by developers like the Knapp/Hy-Vee team and local officials seeking input), our online presence, the DNA is a place to have these conversations with your neighbors, your business owners, your police department, and your city representatives.
For downtown to continue to thrive, we’ll need to make sure it is a place for everyone – including colorful characters on the street too. Appropriately, the DNA keeps the doors of membership open wide (including to non-residents). We encourage you to join the conversation.
And don’t worry, we’ll find a good place to sit.
Information provided by Chris Talcott for the Downtown Neighborhood Association, www.desmoinesdna.com or facebook.com/desmoinesdna.