Wednesday, September 16, 2020

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Writing University has continued with our series of interviews - the "5Q Interviews" - with writers that participate in the various University of Iowa writing programs and communities. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home. The University of Iowa Press, with the Writing University, is reaching out to its authors to gain perspective and connection through these interviews. We want to know how they are doing, first and foremost: we are primarily checking in. We are a family here -- the press, the authors, the university -- and this is what families do: we check in.

Today we are speaking with Chuck Connerly, author of Green, Fair, and Prosperous:  Paths to a Sustainable Iowa.

Chuck Connerly

Chuck Connerly joined the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning (recently renamed the School of Planning and Public Affairs) in 2008 as professor and director. His research has been published in top journals urban planning. He wrote the Most Segregated City in America: City Planning and Civil Rights in Birmingham, 1920-1980 (University of Virginia Press, 2005) and co-edited Growth Management in Florida: Planning for Paradise, published by Ashgate Publishing in 2007.

The Most Segregated City was named one of the top 10 planning books in 2006 by Planetizen. In 2007 the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning named the book a recipient of the Paul Davidoff Award, which recognizes an outstanding book publication promoting participatory planning and positive social change, opposing poverty and racism as factors in society and seeking ways to reduce disparities between rich and poor; white and black; men and women. For five years he co-edited the Journal of Planning Education and Research and for nine years he co-edited Housing Studies.

In 2011-2013, Chuck served as President of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, the national learned society of planning schools, faculty, and students in the US. His most recent book, Green, Fair, and Prosperous:  Paths to a Sustainable Iowa (University of Iowa Press, 2020, September 1) is an assessment (part history, part contemporary analysis) of Iowa's sustainability challenges and responses. It builds on Connerly's work with the community engagement initiative of which he is the principal founder, the UI Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities ( In 2015, he received the Michael J. Brody award for faculty service presented by the University of Iowa Faculty Senate and the UI Provost's Office.  In 2018, he was presented with the Jay Chatterjee Award for Service by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.


1. Could you tell us a bit about your new book?

In Green, Fair, and Prosperous:  Paths to a Sustainable Iowa I try to look at all three components of sustainability--environmental sustainability, economic development, and social equity.  Without all three in balance, we will not have sustainability or sustainable development.  As both an urban planner and an historian, I apply an historical perspective to my analysis and therefore try to establish the historical context for what we have gained or lost in these three areas.  In the case of economic development, I look at the changes in the two primary food--related manufacturing sectors in the state:  meatpacking and farm machinery manufacturing.  In both areas, I trace the loss of good well-paying jobs that has contributed to the loss of a middle class in the state of Iowa and to economic decline of cities that had been dependent upon meatpacking, such as Mason City and Ottumwa.  With the environment, I look at the growing problems with water quality in the state and beyond associated with the application of fertilizer to our corn and soybean crops.  I also look at the impact that climate change is having on our state and our state's contributions to climate change, which are disproportionately higher than other states.  Finally, I look at how the state's whiteness was created by state and federal public policies, not only towards Native Americans, but also against others--African Americans, Latinx, and Asians--to keep them from moving to the state or to evict or relocate them.  In the final chapter, I take aim at the claim, made in 2018 by US News, that Iowa is the Best State in the Nation, and conclude the book with some broad recommendations for enabling Iowa to be a more sustainable state.

2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

I wish I had a daily practice for writing.  My job as a professor and administrator leaves me with comparatively little time to write.  During the academic year, I primarily write on Saturdays and so after waking up to Scott Simon on NPR, I spend the day writing.  

3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

For pleasure, I am currently reading David Blight's monumental biography of Frederick Douglass--what a monumental work.  My next book to read after that is Harold Hughes's autobiography, The Man from Ida Grove.  Hughes was Democratic Governor of Iowa for three terms in the 1960s and then served one term as a US Senator.  He was a progressive governor who pushed for an end to the Viet Nam War.  My next project is to write a biography of Hughes, based in part on his gubernatorial and Senate papers that are in the University of Iowa Library.  I look forward to telling the story of a man of whom many people in the state have never heard.

4. Tell us about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I am from a working class suburb of Chicago--Franklin Park--near O'Hare Field.  I was very fortunate to grow up there in the 1950s and 60s.  Franklin Park had a lot of small and medium sized factories and therefore had a strong tax base.  Consequently, local schools could pay good salaries and hire good teachers.  It wasn't until years later that I realized how good my teachers were--especially in high school.  While I and most of my friends came from working class backgrounds, the quality of education we received enabled us to do well in college and graduate school.  

5) Do you have a writing prompts you could share to inspire us?

Right now, I am between writing projects, but I miss my writing Saturdays.  So my prompt to get going again takes place every Saturday.


Thank you Chuck!