Students recently held a progressive dinner, supporting three small business restaurants, in Mason City to gather information about how residents in the North End would like to see their area of town improve. The six master’s students in Urban and Regional Planning are working on a yearlong capstone project for the City of Mason City focused on healthy neighborhoods.
Funding for the free-food event was provided by the community project partner, Cerro Gordo County Public Health, and accommodated 50 members of the public and the project participants. Community members ate at three different restaurants in a city block, ending at a recently spruced up vacant retail space, while the students discussed topics such as housing, transportation and connectivity, health, and community organizing with them and collected their input. The students’ aim is to write a healthy neighborhoods plan for the community while revitalizing a dormant community organization that represents the voices of those in that area of town, ideally to facilitate more progress. The evening’s concept came about through a brainstorming session and was based on the Iowa City Downtown District’s annual Taste of Iowa City event, but on a smaller scale.
The North End is currently faced with a number of empty, older commercial buildings and vacant houses. Those who attended the event expressed a desire to bring a grocery store to the area, increase the number of other small businesses, add an urgent care clinic, improve housing stock, add stoplights and pedestrian crossings, and improve the look of the area. Revitalization will address the interconnectivity of how decent housing influences health, transportation can affect access to healthy food and to jobs, and how those impact economic development of an area.
A story about the event appeared in the Mason City Globe Gazette.