Advocates say physical barriers impede southeast Iowa City neighborhoods


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Physical barriers prevent residents of Iowa City's Southeast Side neighborhood from reaching other parts of the city, officials from two local organizations said Sunday night.

Sean Lewis, the artistic director of Working Group Theater, said the Southeast Side is cut off from the rest of the city by Highway 6, often isolating the community and leading to communication problems with other neighborhoods.

"People don't have one definition for what the Southeast Side is," Lewis said. "I live on the opposite side of Highway 6 in that neighborhood, so I get a completely different perspective on the neighborhood than what a longtime resident or one of the kids who goes to Tate High School from that neighborhood would get."

Working Group Theater joined at the Englert Theater Sunday with Crossing Borders, an organization founded by three UI doctoral students, to display the Was the Word Program — a series of performances to ignite discussion on Southeast Side issues, including neighborhood border definitions, transportation issues, and stereotypes.

"There are voices that aren't heard in this community. And they're being stopped by physical barriers in this town," Crossing Borders cofounder Robert Gutsche said. "One of the main barriers is [U.S.] Highway 6, which traps residents of the Southeast Side inside their community."

UI urban and regional planning Professor Charles Connerly agreed, saying the highway's lack of walkways or through roads inhibits Southeast Side residents' access to the rest of town.

The neighborhood's history as a largely residential area also puts it at a disadvantage for employment, he said, despite relatively stable housing.

"The neighborhood was developed at a time when neighborhoods were planned exclusively for residential land use. It was just standard for the 1950-60s time period," he said. "The way the neighborhood is planned, there are few employment opportunities, no churches. The community still has desirable, affordable housing and one school that is doing well — not exactly a disadvantage."

Belinda Valdez, a former resident of southeastern Iowa City, said the community there often also faces stereotyping.

"A lot of people who dress out of the norm are intelligent people," she said. "Police think these people look like criminals, but a lot of them are just people."

Those stereotypes can collide with the residential housing market, UI sociology Associate Professor Jennifer Glanville said.

"Realtors may change prices or even sell differently based on the neighborhood and people they're trying to sell to," she said. "This includes increasing prices or making houses seem cheap or affordable."

Glanville noted that discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, occurs because of choices made by potential residents and housing providers.

"There is a complex interplay that deals with people's preferences and biases of housing providers," she said.

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