6th Avenue Revitalization Planning Session

Sixth Avenue is a north-south thoroughfare forming the spine of the River Bend neighborhood. It runs more or less from downtown at the south to Interstate 80 (where it turns into NW 6th Drive). Along the way it strings together a variety of destinations including Mercy Medical Center and North High School as well as crossing I-235, University, and Euclid.

It is also, for the most part, underutilized and dreary, particularly for the pedestrian. Until now.

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Aaron Todd and Brian Douglas of the River Bend neighborhood have recognized that the time is ripe for dealing with 6th Ave. The two are project co-leaders of a planning effort to remake 6th Avenue as a neighborhood asset. Toward that end they convened a visioning session of sorts that brought together neighborhood residents, business, and non-profit representatives to start the visioning process for a revitalized 6th Avenue.

The visioning session commenced with small groups brainstorming "vision" statements and putting into words the elements of a successful streetscape revitalization. After sharing the results with the full group, we proceeded into a SWOC (Strengths - Opportunities - Weaknesses - Challenges) analysis. The next group exercise was a review of the suggested streetscape improvement elements identified by previous plans, and submitted to the city planning staff. The meeting concluded with a discussion of what type of neighborhood festival might work to showcase the neighborhood.

6th Avenue Revitalization Planning Session6th Avenue Revitalization Planning Session

All in all, it was a successful visioning session and several common themes developed: promoting development of retail business, enhancing the pedestrian experience, creating connections (including bike) to downtown, and promoting a positive neighborhood image. The major concern that developed was how to deal with the proliferation of social service agencies in the neighborhood.

I was a little surprised that funding was all but absent from the discussion. To the moderators' credit, discussion really did focus on vision rather than implementation - a critical distinction at this early stage. A committee of volunteers will take the discussion notes, condense and interpret them, and continue to push the process forward from here.


I really hope that the community can do something to address this area. While great changes have been made recently (reconstruction of a couple of older business structures and the addition of two new ones) there is still a great deal of progress to be made. With this said, I have a few thoughts on this planned redevelopment.

First, I currently own a home in Highland Park and have seen several references to the idea that the city is contemplating redevelopment along 6th Avenue from the industrial region south of Boston to the area right around the intersection of 6th and Ovid. While I think this is something that sounds great, I am concerned about the changes that this will have on my own part of the neighborhood (I live just south of 5th and Ovid) and how those concerns are going to be addressed.

Secondly, and more to the point, with the River Bend area being revitalized, I, and several of my neighbors, have noticed that changes are occurring in our part of the city. People being forced out of one area are moving into another and brining with them the same problems that already plagued River Bend, most notably are half way houses and single family homes being converted to apartments.

We do understand the need for transitional housing and group facilities, but recently have had one house converted to a home for handicapped adults, which has lead to some very serious problems for our area. We have one resident of the home whose vocabulary consists of numerous four letter words, which he feels the need to yell at the top of his lungs all hours of the day and night.

When the city was contacted regarding this, they had no idea that this was a group home or facility and stated that there was not much they could do to stop this. Their only suggestion was to call the police on a regular basis and file complaints. This we have done on numerous occasions with out much change in the situation.

Now, to add insult to injury, the house at the corner of 4th and Ovid, which burned approximately 18 months ago, is being remodeled. I was very happy to see this happening and went to introduce myself to the people working on the house as they appeared to be a young couple. However, imagine my surprise when they told me that they were not the owners, but in fact, were employees of a Gary Oath (?) and that he was planning on turning the home into transitional housing for recovering alcoholics and possibly substance abusers.

Again, let me stress, we in the area do realize that these types of facilities do serve a legitimate purpose and unfortunately are services that are found in urban areas. However, we wondered as to the effect that this type of concentration would have on our area.

Again, the city of Des Moines was contacted, and again we were told that there was nothing that they could do. They did agree to keep an eye on the area, but to date the yards of both places are on an average day trashed, and junk continues to be strewn around, until someone calls and places a complaint.
Now, I do realize that revitalization does bode well for the area, and I am excited about the possible changes that it will bring. However, to date, those changes have not been for the better and in recent months we have seen the neighborhood begin to decline.

What needs to be done is for the city to be more proactive with revitalization. One way I think this can be achieved is through a program that would not only further the changes desperately needed in River Bend, but also programs that would help maintain, if not improve, areas that abut that neighborhood. This will not only then help the troubled area but also keep the already improving area, as Highland and Oak Parks were when I moved there almost 5 years ago, from being allowed to decline.

While the Parks area does have a neighborhood association, it has been my own personal experience that they are more focused on the commercial areas along Euclid Avenue then on the actual neighborhood. This area is filled with wonderul homes that range from large victorians to simple bungalows and does have a lot to offer to our city. I am hoping that the city will take the lead in helping us maintain our area and I am currently exploring the idea of possibly creating a secondary association to help bring awareness to the problems that face the area, and more importantly, the joys and benifits from living in the Parks area!

| Oct 28th, 2008 at 3:26 pm

First, thanks for reading, and thanks for taking the time to add to the discussion.

You bring up some excellent points. Perhaps the most critical point in my mind is the problems that crop up when revitalization is a "zero-sum" game. Until there are fundamental changes in urban policy (eliminating suburban sprawl subsidy, public transportation, high quality affordable housing, employment, affordable health care, public education funding, etc) revitalization efforts in one neighborhood will simply shift problems to another.

The only way to bring about sustainable city-wide revitalization is to deal with the fundamental structures that breed inequality. Obviously, this can't happen solely at a local level, but there are ways that local, county, and state government could incentivize redevelopment instead of suburban sprawl.

I think that Obama, who happens to have put forward a cohesive urban strategy as part of his campaign, is the best hope for the problems to appear on the national radar. Please vote for Obama if neighborhood revitalization is important to you.

Coming from St. Louis, I have actually been very impressed with Des Moines' Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) that incentivizes grass-roots organizing by providing technical assistance and funding for neighborhood groups that reach specific thresholds. The Community Development Department staff clearly "get it", but there are not enough resources to adequately address all the things that need to be addressed.

I hear your frustration at having specific issues that are clearly not being adequately dealt with. It is particularly difficult when the problems visibly (and audibly) affect the quality of life in your neighborhood.

Just a couple suggestions that you may have already tried:

Group homes are regulated by both the local zoning code and building code. It could very well be that there is nothing the City can do about the actual presence of the facility. Make sure that you have discussed this with the appropriate people to find out whether the facility meets all required zoning and building codes. Try contacting the owner to make sure he or she is aware of the problems as well. Get in contact with the NBSD officer for your area as soon as possible. Ask for advice on who to call when things get out of hand.

DMPerspective | Oct 29th, 2008 at 11:42 pm

Your comments, Steve, are spot-on.

I just want to add that River Bend residents do not wish to push any undesirable activities to other neighborhoods. However, as Steve mentioned, this is a zero-sum game until real, effective policy changes are enacted.

That said, perhaps some of the north Des Moines neighborhoods need to band together to address issues that face multiple neighborhoods. I know this is tough to accomplish. The 6th Ave Revitalization has produced a partnership between River Bend and Cheatom Park, and we hope that a productive parternship lasts beyond this one initiative. We would certainly welcome partnering with other neighborhoods on topics of mutual concern.

While I have not been in Des Moines long, I have been impressed with the work of the Highland Park neighborhood and hope that improving 6th Ave through River Bend will strengthen both neighborhoods as people rediscover this area of Des Moines!

-Aaron Todd

| Oct 31st, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Thank you both for your replies and suggestions. I agree, the work being done in DSM is of great value, and unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast, as they would say. I do not fault the people of River Bend for cleaning up their area, in fact, I commend them whole heartedly and look to them for examples of how to proceed for our area. I guess my real frustration is with the lack of input from the neighborhood association. The only activities that I see proceeding are almost entirely focused around 6th and Euclid. I really see this work as being positive, but sometimes wonder what their ideas are for the remainder of the area. I also agree that banding together with the other Parks area neighborhoods would be very benificial as the same problems that face Highland/Oak Parks are the same problems facing Union, Capitol, and Wright Parks. I just wish I knew how to proceed, I have a love for these neighborhoods and want to come with ideas that could help turn them around. I do want to add, again, I hope that my earlier post didn't imply that I was demeaning the revitlization efforts of River Bend, as I strongly support the actions they have taken and hope, better yet, cannt wait for the day when River Bend is as nice as Sherman Hill and as respected once again as it was in its heyday, which really wasn't all that long ago. Thank you for the oppurtnity to post here.

Charles Lyddon

| Nov 6th, 2008 at 12:48 pm

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