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Urban walks The pleasures of ambling along, right where you are

By Radish magazine staff

Oftentimes in articles extolling a good walk, that walk usually takes place in a park or along a scenic trail. We've printed many such articles in this magazine, too. Who doesn't love the change of pace a good nature walk offers, after all?

But the majority of the walking most of us do every day takes place a little closer to home, as we stroll through our neighborhoods or head down the street from work to get lunch — and those walks have value, too. Every step we take is a step toward the daily 10,000 steps (or roughly 1/2 hour spent walking) often recommended by health experts, including those at the Mayo Clinic.

Such city walks aren't just healthy for us, though. They are healthy for our streets and neighborhoods as well. As Jane Jacobs points out in her famous book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," the more people out and about on a street, the safer that street is and the better for the businesses and people that reside there.

What's more, the best way to advocate for pedestrian-friendly cities is on your feet, demonstrating it's not just vehicles using our streets. In that spirit, we asked four Radish writers, each from a different community, to share pictures and thoughts from one of their favorite walks.

Quad-Cities

Because I believe the best way to get to know a new place is on foot, I make it a point to take a long walk whenever I move to a new community. I enjoy noting the details — architectural elements on buildings, business hours printed on doors — that you would otherwise miss speeding by in a car, and I am convinced it is easier to make a mental map of blocks and streets as a pedestrian.

So it was, within the first week of arriving in Davenport in 2007, I set out on foot to see where it was, exactly, we were going to be calling home. The plan was to start two hours before my husband got off work, and then he would call to find out where to pick me up on the way back to our apartment.

"You won't believe it! I'm in Illinois. I walked here!"

We were living on the corner of 7th and Iowa streets at the time, so I set out in a roundabout course, making my way to the river. I passed the LeClaire Heights community garden, where in a few years I would have a plot myself. I doubled back, looking at the stately old houses built to overlook the river and noted with delight the prevalence of peonies and hostas in the yards. Then I headed down the hill.

When I arrived downtown, I was tickled to discover we were within walking distances of a library, art museum, and several restaurants. I admired the striking red stones of the River Music Experience building and the elaborately carved bank building across the street. Along the river, I caught a glimpse of the mid-week farmers' market at the Freight House and heard the crack of the bat as I passed Modern Woodmen Park. With each new thing, I felt the possibilities for our new life here expanding.

But it was the Centennial Bridge that really caught my eye. I spotted a handful of people walking across it, and retraced my steps to find the sidewalk leading up to the bridge. I think it's fair to say when I stood in that windy expanse between Davenport and Rock Island, and I saw the breadth of the river and the sweep of downtown buildings on either side, that I first truly fell in love with this place. When my husband called a few minutes later to ask where I had gotten to, I replied breathlessly, "You won't believe it! I'm in Illinois. I walked here!"

It's a route I've repeated many times since walking with visiting friends and relatives. Along the way, I point out landmarks that tell the history of this place — the Colonel Davenport house, the place where the first bridge across the Mississippi was built, the site of the first chiropractic adjustment. Over the years, that history has become interwoven with my own, as I also point out the riverfront park that was a casino when I moved here, the railing where I first saw bald eagles perched (and mistook them for statues!), the vintage clothing store run by a friend.

When your own history becomes part of the history of a place, when you feel you have a stake in the life taking place on these streets and among these neighbors, that's when you know the city you live in is truly "yours." Every time I repeat that first walk through the Quad-Cities, I find myself thinking how quickly this place won my heart -- and how home is where the heart is.

— Sarah J. Gardner

Galesburg

While Galesburg has several walking routes I enjoy — from the Lake Storey trail to the meandering streets surrounding the old research hospital — my absolute favorite place for a stroll is the city's tree-lined brick-street historic district.

The heart of this jaunt, for me, is up-and-down Broad, Prairie, and Cherry streets from Losey on the south to Fremont on the north, a veritable walking tour of one of the oldest residential neighborhoods in the city. For extra mileage — and a gander at even more of the 'Burg's beautiful historic homes — you can extend to Academy to the West, as far as Chambers to the East, as far north as Park Avenue, and into downtown on the south.

It's a shaded, light-traffic walk with plenty of eye-candy, from the famed brick streets to the landscaped yards to the colorful and unique variety of old homes, from traditional Victorian manses to sandstone estates with marble columns. In other words, this is no cookie-cutter subdivision. A stroll through the historic district will take you by or within view of some of the city's most elaborate, distinctive, and historic abodes, including the three-story Queen Anne on Prairie known as the Carr House, the sprawling and stately Ingersoll House (the official residence for the Knox College president), as well as ornate bed-and-breakfasts, and many lovingly restored personal residences.

There is Galesburg pride and history in these streets, which I love. There is nothing better than a stroll down these streets the first weeks of spring when the neighborhood is dotted with spring blooms after a long winter or in the crisp air under a canopy of golden leaves in the fall.

There is Galesburg pride and history in these streets, which I love.

But there is also the reality of hard times and the inevitability of decay, which also is a part of the city's story. Amid this gawking at century-old architectural details — which for me offers a special window to the past, given that my family has been Knox Countians since the 1850s — you'll also find not just a few abodes that have seen better days, the kind of places you could spend some time imagining what it might look like with a huge wad of cash thrown at it, or even with the help of a magic wand. To my eye, though, the eyesores only heighten the beauty of the homes that have lasted all these decades in the heart of Galesburg.

— Jane Carlson

Iowa city

I'm a history nerd, so when I take a walk, I like to walk in the footsteps of others. Today, I'm walking in the footsteps of the people who founded Iowa.

Iowa City is anchored to the map by the Pentacrest, where the original state capitol building of Iowa occupies the center of a four-block spread in the heart of downtown. The Old Capitol Building's cornerstone was laid in 1840, when Iowa City was the last capital of the Iowa Territory. When Iowa became the 29th state in 1846, the building housed Iowa's first legislature.

As I stroll past the east-facing steps that lead under tall columns into the dim interior, I can almost imagine that the legislators are inside, drafting the state constitution. On the outside, I imagine women in voluminous hoop skirts and men in frock coats and starchy cravats passing by on their way to a shop, a workplace, a home. On the other side of the building, the view sweeps down to the Iowa River and up the westward bluffs. Here I imagine a pristine prairie landscape, where Native Americans of the Ioway tribe may have stood where I stand now, gazing over a landscape populated by deer, snakes, rabbits and cougars.

As I stroll past the east facing steps that lead under tall columns into the dim interior, I can almost imagine that the legislators are inside, drafting the state constitution.

In 1857 Des Moines became Iowa's capital; the University of Iowa took over the Old Capitol Building. The Pentacrest transformed as the university added four huge limestone buildings, creating a formation of five structures arranged like the five spots on a dice — hence the name.

Nowadays the Pentacrest is a hub of activity, housing classrooms, offices, studios, theaters and museums. In good weather I'll see a class moved outdoors onto the vast lawns, verdant green interspersed with breezily colorful flower beds and flying Frisbees. Sidewalks crisscross among the buildings, shaded by towering trees or baked in the blaze of the sun. Hawks and helicopters patrol the skies, while students and citizens hold impromptu rallies at ground level, or a stage is set up for jazz under the stars, or a band of tubas plays carols on a frosty winter morning, or a statue of the university's mascot sports a cap and gown while welcoming visitors.

It's summer now, so today the Pentacrest is a peaceful place for the locals to sit on a bench, eat lunch, or take a leisurely stroll. A chipmunk practically scampers over my toes. A goldfinch flits past in a burst of bright yellow. A young woman reads a book while stretched out on the sun-warmed limestone blocks of the Old Capitol Building. The Pentacrest is the soul of this small Midwestern city, where campus melds with the town, a green and pleasant mix of history, humanity and horticulture.

— Mary Blackwood

Cedar Rapids

Strolling alongside a group of young adults decked out in ethnic Czech costumes during a recent celebration took me back in time.

Savory scents of house-smoked meats from Polehna's Meat Market mingled with the aroma of fresh bread, hot out of the oven, at Sykora Bakery in Czech Village.

Anyone who lived near "Bohemie Town," or "The Avenue" in Cedar Rapids, will fondly recall both shops, and many others, along 16th Avenue SW.

Where the Convention & Visitors Bureau is now located, Kosek's Dime & Dollar Store was a mecca for neighborhood kids like me. While adults shopped for that perfect color of thread among the sewing supplies or just the right pair of work gloves, the store called us in with its rows of candies: Sixlets, Pixy Stix, Double Bubble gum and more.

Czech Village is one of those rare exceptions in a city that's not known for being easily walkable.

In that pre-security camera era, all remained under the watchful eye of the store owners, whose office overlooked the main floor.

Walking on the same side of the street, Sykora's poppy seed kolaches, chocolate-glazed long Johns and onion rye bread were favorites of mine and, along with other baked goods, offered another form of enticement.

Just a short distance away, across the street, I can still picture the Saddle & Leather Shop, an eclectic store where you didn't have to own a horse to find something of interest: clothes, hats, boots, collectible toys and so much more filled every corner.

Up the sidewalk, a trip to the village wasn't complete without stopping in for a "wienie" smoked in the brick, wood-fired smokehouse that gave the meat at Polehna's its signature flavor, but is now simply another memory.

Just across C Street, Czech Cottage, with its sparkling, hand-cut crystal, hand-painted egg shells, ornaments and other imported gifts, was the store where my mom let me choose a treasured garnet cross and a garnet ring as gifts on special occasions.

From there, our house was just two or so blocks' walking distance.

Czech Village is one of those rare exceptions in a city that's not known for being easily walkable.

Storefront after storefront nearly connect from C Street SW all the way to the Cedar River, a favorite fishing hole for many nearby residents, where a series of stone lions solemnly stand watch over the bridge that ties to New Bohemia on the East side.

It was the river that upended this thriving business district, when massive floods in 2008 surged through the streets, leaving water up to ceiling-high in many buildings.

I was one of the first allowed to tour the area when it was reopened to business owners. The mud-caked sidewalks, broken windows, overturned display cases and putrid stench of the flood — such a contrast to the pleasant scents of the past — rush back when looking at photos I shot that day.

The resilience of those business owners, fortunately, brought Czech Village back to life, with iconic shops like Sykora Bakery and Czech Cottage seeing a resurgence. While some no longer exist, others have taken their places and "The Avenue" is alive once again.

— Cindy Hadish

Created By
Spencer Rabe
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Credits:

Sarah J. Gardener Jane Carlson Mary Blackwood Cindy Hadish

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