Published February 3, 2017 by the Des Moines Register

It would be tempting to think of Capital Crossroads’ priorities — including a downtown sports stadium, an indoor farmers market and a new airport terminal — as a wish list that some Santa will fulfill in the next five years.

That’s not how the vision plan works, and that’s not how central Iowa works. Improving the region takes pushing and lifting by many hands — hundreds of elves, you might say.

Nearly 700 volunteers have worked to identify and implement projects in the first round of Capital Crossroads. The result has been more trails and improved parks, more job opportunities, new attractions in downtown Des Moines, among other accomplishments.

The next five years could be more challenging. The Capital Crossroads 2.0 plan focuses on questions that are much more difficult than where to build a new stadium. They include:

  • How can we develop more affordable housing for workers and seniors?
  • How do we attract and retain talent while helping more students graduate with a post-high school degree?
  • Can we overcome our differences to solve our soil and water problems? And how do we attract more people to enjoy our rivers and lakes?
  • How do we create a more efficient, interconnected transportation system geared away from cars?
  • How do we create a larger conversation on mental health issues and improve access to treatment?

The answers will require leadership, creativity, money and collective will. The planners behind Capital Crossroads 2.0 discovered that while the Des Moines area has made great progress in many areas, we’re dogged by pockets of poverty.

Nearly 42 percent of city of Des Moines residents are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — in other words, “they have trouble making ends meet and are at risk of falling into poverty if an unexpected expense arises,” according to a Capital Crossroads regional assessment. That’s worse than the national average and peer cities.

A key portion of the plan includes efforts to revitalize Des Moines neighborhoods. While values have risen overall in Polk County, thousands of homeowners in poorer neighborhoods saw their home values fall as much as 13 percent from 2011 to 2015, according to a Register report.

The region and state will fail to meet its potential if many of our fellow citizens are left behind. It’s critical that Capital Crossroads leaders and volunteers reflect the diversity of the region in a radius of 50 miles around the state Capitol.

This is where you come in. Capital Crossroads may be led by business leaders and elected local officials, but it’s driven by volunteers who will attend meetings, lobby for projects and do the often-thankless work of organizing and fund-raising.

As we’ve said before: If you’re disillusioned with what’s happening in Washington, find hope at home. If you want to make America great again, start small.

As journalist Colin Woodard wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, the Des Moines area stands out nationally in laying out a vision and bringing people together to make amazing things happen. “People with differing political beliefs and walks of life got together to invest in common infrastructure, and their cities were better for it, economically, socially, and in civic health and pride,” he wrote.

Let’s show we can do it again.

Get involved

To volunteer for one of Capital Crossroads’ 10 capitals, or work platforms, or get more information, go to