UI, Iowa City collaborate to further neighborhood development, engagement goals

A UI course and an Iowa City neighborhood association have worked together this spring to celebrate the city’s diverse communities and encourage community engagement development.


Avi Lapchick

The Iowa City City Hall is seen in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 2, 2023.

Isabelle Foland, News Reporter

The City of Iowa City and the University of Iowa have partnered to form a course at the UI that aims to encourage and celebrate community diversity among both students and neighborhood residents.

In the summer 2022, the City of Iowa City worked to form the Wonderful Westside Neighborhood Association, which emphasizes creating partnerships and community in the neighborhood.

Mohamed Joreya, a representative for the association and an English language acquisition advisor at Kirkwood Community College, said the goals of this association are to increase the area’s public safety, build a strong sense of community, and elevate and celebrate the diverse immigrant population of the area.

The neighborhood boundaries fall within Melrose Ave., Mormon Trek Blvd., Willow Creek Trail, and Westwinds Drive.

In addition to its partnership with the UI, the association has partnered with the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, and Christ the King Lutheran Church.

The UI’s partnership with the association involves two courses co-taught by UI professors Travis Kraus and Loyce Arthur. The courses are entitled “Community Development Through Creative Placemaking” and “Action! Engage! Art! Creative Placemaking for the Public Good.”

Kraus said this partnership is a continuation of the past collaboration between his and Arthur’s departments, which are the school of planning and public affairs and the department of theater arts, respectively.

This collaboration aims to teach students about the intersections between art, culture, economic development, and social justice within a community and how city governments can use those intersections to develop community engagement and well-being, Kraus said.

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The students then take what they learn and collaborate with city officials to bring their community engagement goals to fruition.

The decision to partner with the Wonderful Westside Neighborhood Association came after speaking with Iowa City’s Outreach and Engagement Specialist Ayman Sharif about the city’s goals surrounding neighborhood development, Kraus said.

“Hearing about the way that the city is starting to see neighborhood units as really integral to decision-making for broader community goals, it resonated with me well because I think that people can identify really well with the place that they live and also are experts about what’s needed for their particular neighborhoods,” Kraus said.

Kraus and Arthur then learned about the formation of the Wonderful Westside Neighborhood Association and because the association’s and their course’s goals were so similar, they decided to collaborate with the association.

The students of the course have spoken with members of the neighborhood, the neighborhood association, and the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County to facilitate their development and engagement goals, Kraus said.

Arthur said the course is open to all majors, which helps bring diverse viewpoints and problem-solving skills to the table when the students are planning what projects and developments they would like to see in the community.

Since the course’s start in the spring semester, Arthur said students have been excited and happy with their work so far.

“There’s a really good energy whenever we meet with folks from the association or anyone from the neighborhood,” Arthur said. “They have been very kind and welcoming and generous with their time and enthusiastic… I think everybody’s just excited about what can be done.”