Each year, the Iowa Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-Iowa) asks its members to nominate plans, projects, and individuals deserving recognition for achievements in planning work.  This year, the MedQuarter Master Development Plan was honored by the organization as an exemplary urban design project – one of ten outstanding plans, projects, and individuals recognized.  The APA Iowa urban design award honors efforts to create a sense of place in communities, neighborhoods, and campuses.

For those not familiar, the MedQuarter is a district of Cedar Rapids, located immediately northeast of downtown. It was conceived by the 2007 Vision Cedar Rapids Downtown Framework Plan as a dense and well‐defined district of medical uses, one of nine districts near downtown. A special taxing district – a SSMID District – was formed for the MedQuarter, giving the district a dedicated source of funding for improvements, and a Medical SSMID Commission was assembled to govern the expenditure of SSMID funds. In the spring of 2013, the Lakota Group team was fortunate to be selected by the Medical SSMID Commission complete a master plan for the district.

Working with this diverse group of commissioners – a group comprised of representatives from the district’s medical institutions (PCI, UnityPoint St. Luke’s Hospital, and Mercy Medical Center), elected officials, physicians, and small business owners – was a great experience.   As the planning process progressed, the group found common ground in a plan that both promotes a high-quality patient experience and an environment of “total health” for all visitors, employees, and area residents.  The MedQuarter Master Development Plan promotes physical, mental, and spiritual wellness through policy initiatives and improvements to the built environment that emphasize accessibility, walkability, access to arts and cultural amenities, and access to high-quality public open space.

These district-scale improvements also support bigger-picture community goals including the City of Cedar Rapids’ Blue Zones Project initiative (the City of Cedar Rapids was named an Iowa Blue Zones Project demonstration site in 2013), and the State of Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative – which seeks to make Iowa the healthiest state by 2016, as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Because of its strong leadership and access to a dedicated funding source, the MedQuarter has a unique opportunity for success.  We’re certainly proud of how the plan turned out, and look forward to seeing plan improvements implemented.  We are also quite pleased that the plan was honored with an award.  We accepted the award a couple of weeks ago at a luncheon hosted as part of the 2014 APA Upper Midwest Conference in Mason City, Iowa – another Iowa Blue Zones Project demonstration site.

Sidebar: Mason City is the hometown of Meredith Wilson, composer of The Music Man, a story inspired in part by his childhood home.  In the story, the Professor comes to River City to get the ne’er-do-wells to quit playing pool (..capital ‘t’ that rhymes with ‘p’, that stands for pool), and form a marching boys band (76 trombones).  If you haven’t seen the 1962 film adaptation starring Shirley Jones (of The Partridge Family fame) recently, it’s worth a watch.