Shaping the Future: The Role of Placemaking in the Cedar Valley

posted on Monday, March 18, 2024 in Economic Development

The term “placemaking” is frequently mentioned in discussing talent retention and attraction efforts and its significance can vary.  For the Cedar Valley, placemaking entails creating, preserving, and improving the area’s attributes to retain and attract new talent.   Placemaking involves the collaborative process of designing and activating public spaces to reflect the unique identity, culture and aspirations of a community.  It seeks to transform ordinary places into vibrant hubs that encourage social interaction, cultural expression and economic opportunity.

Placemaking initiatives contribute to Economic Development by creating attractive destinations that attract residents, visitors, and businesses alike. Well-designed public spaces serve as magnets for commerce, tourism, and cultural exchange, thereby stimulating local economies and increasing property values.

Conversely, Economic Development initiatives provide essential resources and support for Placemaking endeavors. Investments in infrastructure, amenities, and public services bolster the capacity of communities to realize their placemaking vision, fostering a sense of pride, ownership, and stewardship among residents.

When Placemaking and Economic Development efforts are aligned and coordinated, they generate synergistic benefits that amplify their impact on communities. Vibrant public spaces attract entrepreneurs, investors, and talent, spurring innovation, creativity, and economic diversification while fostering a strong sense of community identity and cohesion.

A current example of a local placemaking project that directly involves economic development partners is the Cedar Valley River Experience initiative.  For several years, Grow Cedar Valley has been collaborating with INRCOG (Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments) and other stakeholders on the CVRE project, a regional economic development initiative for Cedar Falls and Waterloo focused on the Cedar River. The Cedar River serves as a significant catalyst for economic development in both cities, with ongoing and future efforts aimed at harnessing its potential. Over the past two decades, collaborative efforts across communities have rallied support around the Cedar River as an economic and quality-of-life asset. Projects like the Chain of Lakes, the Cedar Valley Lakes Trail, Island Park Beach, River Place Plaza in Cedar Falls, Bridge Lighting, and Downtown River Renaissance projects in Waterloo have contributed to the Cedar River Valley's recognition as one of Iowa's Great Places in 2019.

The broader vision for the Cedar Valley River Experience involves integrating the area's river and public space assets with the culture, dining, events, and entertainment offerings of both downtown areas. This creates a seamless, unified River Experience that showcases the strengths of both communities.

By functioning as a cohesive economic development entity, Cedar Falls and Waterloo can amplify their impact and tell a more compelling story. Marketing their shared river assets enhances their visibility in state, regional, and national markets and increases the likelihood of securing state and federal funding for future projects aligned with the vision.

Advancing the Cedar Valley River Experience Vision aims to: transform the Cedar Valley into a magnet for talent retention and recruitment; highlight Cedar Falls and Waterloo's unique identities as interconnected communities; showcase regional, state, and national natural assets, resources, and cultural amenities; and ultimately, enhance regional economic growth and impact.

For more information, visit: Cedar Valley River Experience