The recession hit suburban Salem, OR hard. According to Moody's Analytics, the capital city is one of the 22 U.S. metropolitan regions that are "at risk" of falling back into the economic despair.
In response to this troubling report, students and professors at the University of Oregon have taken it upon themselves to help rebuild Salem through the Sustainable Cities Initiative, an inter-disciplinary program designed to teach students about "research, education, service, and public outreach around issues of sustainable city design."
The program allows students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it through hands-on community service in order to transform Salem into a more sustainable city.
Elena Fracchia, an Oregon graduate student in Public Administration, commented, "When else will you get to work so closely with students from all over the University on the same project? While we aren't in the same classes, we know that each of [us] is working towards the greater good of the city."
Fracchia is enrolled in a Social Geographic Information Systems class at the university this fall, where she will be analyzing bike and pedestrian infrastructure in the city of Salem. In the classroom, she will study different modeling structures using GIS while focusing on designing pathways between key downtown parks. With the help of the Sustainable Cities Initiative, she will be able to actualize her concept.
"The hands-on nature of the program makes the work feel important, useful and real in a way that can't be simulated in the classroom," Fracchia said.
Re-configuring bike paths and pedestrian walkways will allow residents of Salem to get around efficiently without a vehicle, and as a result, decrease their carbon footprint.
This past school year, Fracchia took a course titled "Climate Future Forums and Climate Prepared Communities" for the Sustainable City Year project in Gresham, Oregon (which is part of SCI). According to her, "The purpose of the forum is to gather experts from a variety of backgrounds (natural systems and community systems) to discuss the potential impacts of climate change and begin to establish cross-sectoral recommendations for preparing locally for the changing conditions. SCI gave me the opportunity to take what I was learning from my internship one step further by applying the research on a more localized level for the City of Gresham."
This year, more than 600 students will be participating in SCI.
"The city wins cheap labor. And the students win hands on application with a tangible result. Every university should be following this model," said Jessica Bloomfield, a SCI Graduate Teaching Fellow who is working towards earning her dual degree in Law and Community and Regional Planning at the University.
According to Bloomfield, SCI contributes to the crucial goal of developing sustainable American cities, "To continue to grow in the 21st century, every city and town is going to have to incorporate sustainability into its design, legislation, and way of life."