Chuck Connerly, Urban and Regional Planning

Chuck Connerly

Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Chuck Connerly’s vision for a 21st century urban and regional planning program is something more than simply being an academic department.

When Connerly was named director of the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning in August 2008, he emphasized the importance of community outreach in the graduate students’ education.

In 2009, the school launched the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC). The IISC’s purpose is to enhance the capacity of towns, cities, and counties in Iowa, as well as elsewhere in the Midwest, to better become sustainable communities by meeting their social, economic, and environmental needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

For example, second-year master’s degree students in the yearlong Field Problems in Planning course serve as consultants to city administrators in Iowa towns, working with them to address their community’s respective needs in the areas of economics, the environment, equity, and energy.

UI graduate students have worked with seven Iowa towns in the last two years (Decorah, Anamosa, Columbus Junction, Wellman, Burlington, Charles City, and Oskaloosa) and will assist Dubuque leaders for the next two years in developing sustainability plans in several areas.

“By taking our students out of the classroom and into the field, these outreach activities help to distinguish urban planning from many other academic programs in the university,” said Connerly, who came to the UI from Florida State University, where he was chair of the urban and regional planning department.

Connerly spoke with fyi about critical issues for today’s planners, what he likes most about living in a small town, and his love of baseball.

What’s your philosophy for connecting with community leaders to offer your assistance?

You cannot go into a community knowing the answer. You need to learn from the community. Part of our job is teaching the students how to learn from the community. Right now we have students who are doing class-related work in southeast Iowa City and they’re spending a lot of time listening to people, whether in focus groups or informal interviews. They are learning so much, and there’s no way we could provide that kind of education in the classroom.

In 10 years, where will students in the Field Problems in Planning course do their sustainability work?

A few of my favorite things…
Apple pie

Visiting the Kalona Bakery or Golden Delight Bakery

Buying baked goods at the Iowa City Farmer’s Market from a couple who graduated from Grinnell College

Books about former President Abraham Lincoln

Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks

Sometimes I think I sort of fly by the seat of my pants, which is a heck of a thing for a planner to say. I would certainly like to do projects elsewhere in Iowa, and I would really like to do projects outside of Iowa—other places in the Midwest and possibly even overseas.

Western Iowa would be more of a challenge logistically, but we could do it. We couldn’t go every week and we might have to do some work on weekends. I think it’s important for us to have a presence in western Iowa.

What is a critical issue for today’s planners to address?

Climate change is a huge challenge. It’s very difficult for any single community to have a huge impact on climate. We in Iowa have a huge impact on the environment, because of all the agriculture that results in runoff and affects not only our rivers, which have been degraded, but the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, which have been degraded as well by our actions here. There is a connection between local actions and global impact.

What do you like about living with your family in Frytown (pop. 165—located about 10 miles southwest of Iowa City near Kalona)?

We live in an rural village where we know a few people. We do a lot of our shopping in Kalona, which is a really neat town. My wife is a quilter and is interested in antiques, and that is what makes downtown Kalona run. I enjoy going into a small town on a Saturday morning. If we want sophistication and culture, all we have to do is come into Iowa City, but even that is in a small-town format. We don’t have to battle big-city traffic to enjoy a really good restaurant or a reading at Prairie Lights or all those things that make Iowa City such an exciting and vibrant cultural center.

Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Franklin Park, you have been a lifelong Cubs fan. What kind of Cubs fans are you?

When I was a kid, I didn’t give up until September. Now, it varies. I have a casual interest in the Cubs. I don’t think I’ve ever had high expectations, except 2003. It’s reality. They’re mostly going to disappoint. But I check the score every night.

You attended three or four Cubs games every season growing up. Do you have a favorite baseball memory?

Actually, it comes from a White Sox game at old Comiskey Park, when I was in seventh or eighth grade. The game went extra innings and it was won on a walk-off home run by White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox, who later was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Fox specialized in using a “bottle” bat. It was just designed to get him on base. He was a singles hitter and went seasons without hitting a home run. He didn’t believe in bat speed, he just wanted to make contact with the ball. Everyone was amazed when he hit a home run to win the game.