Iowa City Eyes Better Bridges

IC downtown pedestrian mall


Written by Dylan Goncalves | Journalism, Sport and Recreation Management | University of Iowa ’19

The University of Iowa Chief Diversity Office hosted the first-ever Iowa City Better Bridges Institute, an opportunity for local business owners and managers to develop skills in inclusive leadership, in January 2017.

During the day-and-a-half-long event, participants had the opportunity to receive training from the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), engage in discussion-based reviews of case studies, and receive a diversity and inclusion tool kit. Nancy Bird, executive director of Iowa City’s Downtown District, chose to play a pivotal role in building this type of opportunity for local business owners.

“I personally can’t in good faith ignore something that my leadership could potentially impact downtown for the better of the community,” says Bird.

Karen Kubby, co-owner of Beadology in downtown Iowa City, attended and completed the institute. Her business has been on Washington Street for nearly a decade, and she says she’s seen diversity increase and knows that with customers from various backgrounds, “it’s the small things in life that make the biggest difference.” She believes the information she received from the institute will be helpful for her and other participants.

“It’s part of the mission of the downtown district, which I am very involved in, to make sure that downtown feels like an inclusive and welcoming space to live, work, shop, and play,” says Kubby. “I want to make sure that my business is as welcoming and inclusive as possible.”

“The biggest challenge facing the local business owners and managers to becoming more culturally competent is themselves—that is why I liked that the Institute starts with examining your own thoughts and actions,” says Kim Casko, president and CEO of Iowa City’s Chamber of Commerce. “Once you have awareness, it is up to you to create the time and space to consistently practice more inclusive behaviors.”

Key partners in the initiative are the UI Chief Diversity Office, Iowa City Downtown District, UI Tippie College of Business, UI Office of Outreach and Engagement, City of Iowa City, Iowa City Chamber of Commerce, and UI Student Government.

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