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Dalbey editorial: Quality of life more than venues, events


It’s easy to point to the Capital City Vision projects, the proposed Principal Riverwalk, the improvements at Gray’s Lake, the restoration of Hoyt Sherman Place theater and other big-ticket projects and praise their potential to enhance the quality of life in Greater Des Moines.

Projects like those are important. Potential employees look for things to do after 5 o’clock before making a move to a new city. Some people will even accept lower-paying jobs in cities with a vibrant nightlife and boundless recreational and leisure-time opportunities. The importance of quality-of-life projects in the larger scheme of economic development can’t be overestimated.

We should promote them, celebrate them, and tell anyone who’s willing to listen about them. But we shouldn’t overlook the city’s lower-profile selling points.

Des Moines’ selection as an All-America City June 14 pulled a couple of those out of the shadows and into the public spotlight.

One is the Evelyn K. Davis Early Learning Center, named after the woman who dedicated her life to helping children of color in inner-city neighborhoods. Davis was one of the city’s bona fide heroes. Originally called Tiny Tots Childcare, the academy has touched hundreds of lives and helped children born without advantages learn to find opportunities in themselves.

Another is Des Moines’ Neighborhood Based Services Delivery program, which makes the city government and neighborhood residents partners in the finding solutions to problems that can blight an area. Cited by the National Academy for Public Administration as a model for cities around the country, the program has transformed the River Bend neighborhood’s crime rates from the highest in the city to one of the lowest -and did so in less than two years. The prostitutes are mostly gone, the drug dealers have moved from street corners in River Bend to elsewhere in the city, the housing and business development renaissance is making the neighborhood cleaner and brighter than it has been in years.

Mayor Preston Daniels gets philosophical when he talks about extending an improved quality of life to all residents. He sounds mayoral as he talks about the potential of the Riverwalk, the Iowa Events Center projects, the new Science Center of Iowa and other projects to return vibrancy to the city’s downtown. But he sounds more like the counselor he is by profession when he talks about how Steven Johnson, now the executive director of Partners of Economic Progress, was affected by his years at Tiny Tots Childcare.

“How do you impact and change people’s lives, the quality of life they will have in the future?” he asked rhetorically. “These programs do this. Steve Johnson literally could have been a different individual without the socialization he learned at Tiny Tots.

“That’s what makes the difference. Now, suddenly you have a young person with cognitive skills for early decision-making. What is that, besides knowing right from wrong and having the courage and understanding of when to say yes and when to say no?

Yvette Sutton puts it more succinctly. As a result of the their years at the academy, her seven children “are definitely doing what people expected them not to do: achieve.”

Beth Dalbey is editorial director at Business Publications Corp. E-mail her at bethdalbey@bpcdm.com.

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