This will be my column for Monday’s Gazette.
“The Fifth Season Is Progress” proclaims a billboard as you approach the Cedar River on Interstate 380.
Almost a year ago, the I-380 bridge was the only way to cross the river in downtown, as the river surged for blocks beyond its banks in both directions, swallowing bridges and buildings in its path.
As you may recall, I moved to town that week. As Mimi and I we drove toward Cedar Rapids on Monday of that week, we noted how high the Iowa River was south of town and wondered if it might close I-380 soon (it did, later that week).
As a newcomer, I was puzzled by the “City of Five Seasons” nickname. I remembered from my time in Des Moines people mocking Cedar Rapids as the “City of Five Smells.” I could remember why the reference to smells (and got quick reminders, if I forgot), but could not recall why it was called the “City of Five Seasons” and what the fifth one was.
Before moving here, I began asking people I met around the country what they knew about Cedar Rapids. No one knew about the alleged five seasons and if I asked, they showed no recognition. So I could see that if the nickname was intended to promote the city to outsiders, it wasn’t working.
People had enough trouble remembering our real name. I had people congratulate me on moving to Cedar Springs and Cedar Bluffs (and once since moving here, a colleague wrote about me being from Grand Rapids).
So I asked locals after I moved here, thinking maybe the nickname had some value in helping define the city to its residents. No, most people I asked couldn’t identify the fifth season and if they could (“Time to Enjoy”) they explained it sheepishly.
So a couple months after the flood, I suggested we needed a new nickname, something reflecting the fact that enjoyment had been curtailed during a struggle for recovery. While a few people who had invested time in promoting the Five Seasons nickname criticized me, most of the response I received was support (or derision for the whole notion of city slogans and nicknames).
Still, I had to admit that the city had more pressing needs than launching a new branding campaign, so I let it drop. But I still shook my head frequently when I saw signs and logos promoting the outdated Five Seasons theme.
So I’ll have to give qualified support to “The Fifth Season Is Progress.”
It answers the question that the original nickname raised. It doesn’t need a new campaign to launch or promote it (or change all the city signs and logos, perhaps the best reason I heard for not changing the slogan). It addresses the disaster that has come to define our city to most people who know who we are. And it says we’re coming back.
The Gazette’s editorial board met last week with Mayor Kay Halloran, City Manager Jim Prosser, City Council member Brian Fagan and other city officials. They gave us a four-page brochure touting progress since the flood and you have to agree that much has been done. They explained the need to take the time to make the right decisions for the long term, even if that means we have to wait a while for action, and again, you have to agree with the principle, even if you want a faster recovery pace.
I’ve enjoyed every bit of the progress — playing basketball at the downtown YMCA and eating dinner at the Chrome Horse and Blend, lunch at Maid-Rite and Victor’s and kolaches from Sykora.
I wonder, though, why “Progress” is a temporary slogan. The need for progress will linger (and they promise the progress will continue) long beyond the 30-day run planned for this slogan.
Here’s why I qualify my support: We’ve made a lot of progress, but not enough.
Drive down 3rd Street SE in the New Bohemia area, then cross the river and drive 19th Avenue SW, just a few blocks south of the reviving Czech Village businesses. Wander the streets of Time Check that aren’t blocked off. You might want to erect — or possibly spray-paint — a sign saying, ”The Fifth Season Is Plywood.”
If it’s a boast, “The Fifth Season Is Progress” falls short. As a challenge, as encouragement, as a promise that we’re just getting started, it works.
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