When the Times reached out to me to write a piece on what I would do with the riverfront, there was one thing that came to my mind.
Don’t do it. It’s a trap.
The riverfront is Davenport’s hot-button issue. The developers face off against the conservationists and in the end, more enemies are made than friends. But since I’m the type to argue politics and religion at Thanksgiving dinner, I really couldn’t shy away from this one.
I should start by saying that I have a pretty obvious bias. I’m a downtown business owner and I want to see downtown continue to be an economically viable place, come hell or (literal) high water. I am a big believer that cities are judged by the state of their downtown, and the attraction and retention of young people is dependent on the aesthetic and amenities of these city centers. The problem is that many young people leave this community upon graduation and never come back. If we want to reverse the Annual Mass Exodus Of High School Seniors, strip malls and chain restaurants uptown aren’t going to make it happen.
But more than anything, I want to see the riverfront get a lot of use. I want people to enjoy the splendor of one of the world’s largest rivers at our doorstep.
But between the two bridges in the heart of downtown, the riverfront leaves a lot to be desired. The Skybridge, which many locals call the Bridge to Nowhere, is just that. It is a pedestrian walkway that leads from a parking garage to what was once a riverboat casino, but is now a sad little patch of grass.
It is a dead area.
It isn’t used by locals. It doesn’t attract tourists. It doesn’t generate tax revenue. It is the 24-year-old who lives in his parents’ basement and refuses to get a job.
But we can’t consider doing anything with our riverfront until we protect it from flooding.
We need to start by dropping this notion that Davenport prides itself on its open access to the river. I have only heard this from the mouths of politicians. No one likes sandbagging. No one likes putting their faith in a temporary wall. We are the largest city on the Mississippi without flood protection because many decades ago, our city leaders lacked the foresight to protect us. This is our chance to fix the situation for good.
Next, we need to realize that in order to accomplish this, we are going to have to make concessions. In fact, we already have. The raised railroad has changed not only the look of the riverfront, but also how we access it. Let’s talk about what we are willing to give up. What kind of costs are we willing to incur? How much of our views are we willing to inhibit?
Finally, we need to continue the conversation, and we cannot let that conversation stop until we have a plan of action. The first Flood Task Force meeting was standing-room only. By the fourth and final meeting, the room was half full.
This level of complacency is going to be our undoing, because this problem is not going to go away. Let’s figure this out together, because no one is going to figure it out for us.