Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Oct. 16, 2009
Our View - Include all with a stake in the southeast side
It's unfortunate that it took the recent sense of crisis in Iowa City's southeast neighborhoods to spur a group to undertake the type of survey work now being performed by Safe Neighborhoods of Iowa City. More than 50 members of the coalition -- which formed last month as the Iowa City Council was on the verge of enacting a juvenile curfew law -- have been going door-to-door asking southeast side residents how best to improve safety as well as the community programs they make use of or would like to see in place.
"We're finding out what their needs are, what their issues are, how they feel about the community and trying to help them be part of the process," said Henri Harper, coalition organizer and the juvenile court liaison at City High.
That's an important goal that will benefit whatever steps the Iowa City Council eventually takes to address the root cause of the violence -- much of it involving teenagers -- that has put many in the southeast side on edge in recent months. The high-profile incidents this year include a nearly 60-person brawl on Hollywood Boulevard on Mother's Day, reports of shots fired on Lakeside Drive and Regal Lane on Aug. 5, and, just last week, a homicide investigation of a landlord found dead at Broadway Condominiums.
There have been some concerns that the group's target area doesn't include a wide enough area of what is generally regarded as the city's southeast side. The surveys are being conducted in the sections of the city south of Highway 6, east of Keokuk Street and north of Lakeside Drive. Although there is no official definition of what constitutes the "southeast side," the city generally uses the term to refer to the area south of Highway 6 and east of the river -- which would include the Grant Wood, Wetherby, Pepperwood, Broadway, Southpointe, Paddock and Waterfront neighborhoods.
At the same time, there have been questions raised about why this newly formed group isn't working more directly with the presidents of the active city-sponsored neighborhood associations. The concern is that the coalition's activities could deepen -- rather than help bridge -- the "us versus them" divide.
Yet even those with concerns about how Safe Neighborhoods of Iowa City is gathering the information still wish the new group success in its efforts.
"I really hope that they get somewhere, because it is the only way we all are going to get somewhere," said Joyce Barker, president of the Waterfront Neighborhood Association. "But I think there are a lot of pieces missing and that there are a lot of questions not being asked."
The coalition's organizers said that they are happy to work with anyone interested in improving the area. Although the organizers have not actively sought out contact with all existing groups, they said they haven't been trying to exclude anyone.
We think the city will be a better place if the coalition succeeds in its outreach efforts, but we also think the city council needs to keep all options on the table concerning the curfew ordinance and other public safety proposals.