CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — About 100 students from Jefferson High School gathered at the Education Leadership and Support Center in Cedar Rapids Monday morning. Their goal was to share new ideas for development with city leaders.
“Enthusiasm, energized, excited about Cedar Rapids, those are the things that I took away as far as the emotions and the vibrations in the room,” said city council member Susie Weinacht. “Lots of big ideas and that’s what they were here today to do.”
The program is actually called Big Ideas, and it’s a part of Envision CR, a plan to reshape the city’s comprehensive plan.
This stage is part of the public input phase that lets anyone in Cedar Rapids give city officials their own feedback and ideas.
“I was actually pretty excited, thinking that I could change the city to make it better,” said Will Kremenak, a sophomore at Jefferson High. “They don’t really listen to kids that often as to how to make Cedar Rapids a better place.”
Kremenak said right now, Cedar Rapids isn’t attractive to kids his age and many of them aren’t planning on sticking around after their high school graduation.
“My friends when I talk to them they say, ‘I can’t wait to get out of Cedar Rapids and I can’t wait to get to the bigger and better places,’” he said. “So we want to fix it and make people want to stay here.”
Kremenak said facilities like a sports complex and skate park were popular ideas that he saw scribbled on poster boards.
His group set their sights on a pedestrian mall modeled after the one in Iowa City.
“We were talking about the boutiques and maybe we could add an activity center to the one that we’re creating,” he said of their idea. “There’s also going to be a stage for musical performers on Fridays and Saturdays.”
Weinacht said she’s glad the students were enthusiastic about giving her feedback, which she thinks will help grow Cedar Rapids decades down the line.
“We value the youth in our community and what direction we’ll be going in retaining our youth and retaining the young folks here to work,” Weinacht said. “It’s very important to our community.”
And Kremenak said those opportunities for growth might just convince some of his peers to stick around Cedar Rapids.
“Cedar Rapids is actually a good place,” he said. “If you give it a shot, you’ll like it here, you’ll want to stay here, it’s not as bad as everyone thinks it is.”