Davenport, IA: Open Government Improves Quality of Life

By the early 2000s, Davenport was struggling with the cumulative effects of 20 years of population decline and economic stagnation.

When Craig Malin was appointed city administrator, the state had just approved the city’s $113 million “River Renaissance” redevelopment plan. With city government perceived as closed to public input, many considered the required 60 percent public vote a lost cause. Malin led a public information campaign that moved government beyond responsiveness to inclusion. The redevelopment plan won 73 percent of the vote.

This open approach to government held sway in other crucial projects as well. In a land planning controversy he inherited upon his arrival, Malin first listened—both to the development community and to those who opposed implementation of the sprawl-oriented plan—and then helped launch a detail-rich and transparent planning process. Through several community meetings, residents viewed concepts of the many development outcomes, voted for their preferences, and even drew up their own plans for the 630-acre area. A citywide survey was also conducted to include those who could not attend the meetings.

This ability to find consensus among formerly contentious voices has served Davenport well. With residents working through issues collaboratively, the city updated its comprehensive plan for the first time in 27 years. Davenport also joined with Rock Island, IL, its sister city across the Mississippi River, to launch “RiverVision,” a riverfront redevelopment planning process unmatched in bi-state waterfront scope anywhere in the nation. Now, the downtown that had languished for decades is enjoying a renaissance. Davenport leveraged nearly $400 million in new investment with construction of the first downtown office tower in 20 years; renovated America’s fourth-oldest active professional ballpark; opened the American Roots Music Museum and a world-class art museum; developed a “New Ventures” business incubator; and converted vacant industrial space into loft residences.

Craig Malin’s leadership, energy, professional skill, and unselfish commitment have enabled him to lead the transformation of a previously stagnant city into one of the most resurgent communities in the Midwest. Davenport was recognized as America’s Most Livable Small City in 2007, outperformed every Iowa city in the historic 2008 floods, and in 2011 became the first city in the nation with accredited police, fire, public works, parks and library departments.