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Why Cedar Rapids, IA Is Among the Top 100 Best Places to Live

This iconic Midwestern city took a major flood in stride and came out stronger for it

By Laura Hill on August 25, 2015

Cedar Rapids IA
Cedar Rapids / iStock/DenisTangneyJr

When a devastating flood destroyed large segments of the infrastructure and many homes and businesses in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, one thing it didn’t wreck was the city’s spirit.

More than 10 square miles of the city were impacted and 18,626 people who lived in flood-affected areas. Nearly 6,000 residential properties were flooded and 310 city facilities, among them city hall, the main public library and the central fire station.

Economy, Infrastructure Rebound

While the arduous prospect of rebuilding the city could have prompted residents to give up and move away, Cedar Rapids’ population has grown since the flood; its economy has rebounded; and its enviable quality of life, location, engaged citizens and stable housing market have made it one of America’s best places to live.

“We’re coming back better and stronger than before, thanks to a lot of effort and support from a variety of sources, our citizens, the business community, and state and federal government,†says city manager Jeff Pomeranz. “In 2014 we were named an All-American City, and we were very pleased to get that designation, because it’s a reflection of the hard work of the community in rebuilding and coming back.”

In Livability’s rankings, Cedar Rapids scored high for housing, which includes high-end luxury homes and a wide variety of more affordable homes, apartments and condos.

“We’ve had a very stable housing market in Cedar Rapids, and we never really experienced that boom or bust that many cities did,†Pomeranz says. “We’ve just been stable and evaluations have been increasing several percent on an annual basis. It’s nice when you are a community where values go up 10-15 percent a year, but those communities also tend to have that bust cycle.”

Citizen Involvement Is Key

Civic engagement is another strong point in Cedar Rapids. The city actively encourages citizen involvement, from serving on boards and commission to input into planning initiatives like EnvisionCR, fostering that engagement in innovative ways. A strong social media presence includes Twitter, interactive website surveys and an online bulletin board where citizens can post and answer questions.

“All our council meetings are broadcast, but you can also see any council meeting online, and they are indexed so you can go to any particular agenda item you’d like,†Pomeranz says. “We also have a very successful downtown farmers market where we have city officials posted to answer questions and talk to people.”

Outstanding educational options are another strong suit. Public schools have been nationally recognized, and the city is home to outstanding private schools, two small liberal arts colleges, Coe College and Mount Mercy University, with Cornell College and the University of Iowa nearby. Kirkwood Community College has earned a solid national name.

Economically, Cedar Rapids is enjoying a growing reputation as an energetic, supportive community for entrepreneurs to launch a business, while it maintains plenty of good jobs, many in the city’s historically strong, agriculturally rooted companies. And culturally, the city enjoys a wide variety of arts options, museums, music and entertainment. But perhaps Cedar Rapids’ most endearing amenity is its cherished quality of life.

“We are known as the city of five seasons, and that fifth season is time to enjoy the other four,†Pomeranz says. “We’ve got less traffic, less daily hassle, more access to facilities close to where you work and live. Even though it first resonated with our community years ago, the concept of being the city of five seasons still is relevant to our community.”

We are known as the city of five seasons, and that fifth season is time to enjoy the other four.

Jeff Pomeranz
Cedar Rapids city manager
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