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University of Iowa News Release


May 27, 2011

UI graduate students provide blueprint for change in southeast Iowa City

Sue Freeman is not looking for an overnight solution to achieving social harmony in southeast Iowa City. She just needs a little help in laying the foundation for change.

Freeman, program director for the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, enlisted the services of 13 graduate students in the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning. They worked on three projects during the spring semester to help strengthen the social fabric in this area.

Students in UI Professor Charles Connerly's community development class divided into three groups, each charged with a separate task. The projects: "Case Studies on Diversity Dialogue Methods and Lessons for Iowa City," a "2011 Broadway-Crosspark Neighborhood Quality of Life Study" and "Iowa City: Creating a Welcoming Community."

The students interviewed residents, community leaders and service providers in southeast Iowa City and researched cities that are addressing similar challenges in their communities. They submitted their final reports, with recommendations, to Freeman earlier this month.

The students will present their reports to the public from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 31, in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library. The program is sponsored by the Broadway Neighborhood Center and the UI School of Urban and Regional Planning.

"To undo racism will take a large community effort. We know we can't do it alone," Freeman said. "There are real recommendations that give citizens and policymakers a blueprint for what they can do. (The students) took a look at sustainable community development efforts and showed us what they look like."

Graduate student Nick Benson and his colleagues who worked on the diversity dialogue report studied four cities that use either the Study Circles or National Coalition Building Institute models and examined ways to implement each in Iowa City. The students researched the cities of Waterloo, Iowa; Aurora, Ill.; Decatur, Ga.; and Missoula, Mont.

"It really just takes a few people getting together to say they want to make a difference and change things and to start talking about issues in our town instead of hearing about them in the news," Benson said. "It's really looking at the players who are involved in this process. Who are the people who need to come to the table and talk with each other?

"This is based around the idea that people need to be able to talk with each other civilly and be able to understand each other's problems. That doesn't necessarily mean that the end goal is everyone becomes friends."

Graduate student Kristi Law and her fellow students based their Broadway-Crosspark Neighborhood study on a 1999 study conducted by UI Professor Peter Fisher's class on the availability of public services in southeast Iowa City.

The students looked at places for change identified in the 1999 study and determined if improvement is still needed in those areas to improve the residents' quality of life. They also brought the residents' perspectives into the conversation.

A major theme of the graduate students' discussions with focus groups consisting of parents and Iowa City High students was the availability of bus routes.

"Bus trips are taking one hour because of the way the route is structured and the frequency of the buses," Law said. "The folks we talked with are pretty engaged with what is going on in the neighborhood. But public meetings are held at times that aren't conducive for some people to attend, so how do you get their input? People also want to go to City Park, but they can't get there due to time."

Graduate student Linnea Graffunder and her colleagues researched how to make southeast Iowa City a welcoming community for new residents.

After talking with service providers and neighborhood parents, Graffunder and her fellow students concluded that a big step forward can be made by providing new residents with more information about services and opportunities that are available to them. Graffunder added that residents feel transportation issues (bus availability, lack of personal transportation) create isolation from the rest of the city and cause employment opportunities to suffer.

Graffunder's group also researched the benefits of having Iowa City establish a Block Captain Program in the southeast side.

Freeman intends to help start a Block Captain Program this summer.

"On a given block in southeast Iowa City, there is a lot of turnover," Freeman said. "The survey last year showed that people don't know each other. We're trying to say, 'If you know your neighbor, you will be more respectful.'"

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Graduate College Office of External Relations, 205 Gilmore Hall, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: John Riehl, 319-384-1309,