Project Cities and Apache Junction celebrate advances in project implementation

Happy dog with a big tongueThe partnership between Arizona State University’s Project Cities program and the City of Apache Junction has been a successful, enduring one since the program’s conception in 2017. We are proud to have collaborated with Apache Junction on eight projects across 13 classes, with 213 ASU students since fall 2017. With all of the work our ASU students and faculty have completed, we are excited to see some real impacts begin to come about at the city, informed by Project Cities students’ research and recommendations! While all the projects our students have completed with the City have proven informative, there are a few that have made significant progress since ASU’s involvement began: A proposal for an off-leash dog park, an RFP-based system overhaul for solid waste management, and a General Plan update incorporating sustainability. The first two started as student proposals from the fall 2017 semester, the third from spring 2018. Off-leash dog park The off-leash dog park proposal was borne from a PAF 509 Public Affairs Capstone class of seven students under the instruction of Malcolm Goggin, a Professor of Practice for the Watts College of Public Service & Community Solutions. The City of Apache Junction and its residents have wanted an off-leash dog park for over a decade, however, due to the 2007/2008 recession, the City had to put the project on hold indefinitely. Our students worked closely with city officials and residents to create a more economically and socially feasible proposal for the park. Finally, on June 3, the Apache Junction City Council approved plans to break ground on a site recommended by ASU students. Following its recent progress, Parks & Recreation Director Liz Langenbach expressed: “An off-leash dog park has been a dream for our community and our City Council for many years. We are excited to be in a place to begin realistic plans for this amenity in an area that fits financially and logistically with the City’s overall downtown and City-wide vision." Solid waste management Another significant success has come about from Project Cities students’ recommendations on sustainable solid waste management in Apache Junction. Under the instruction of Al Brown, a Senior Lecturer for the Polytechnic School’s Environmental Research Program, students in ERM 432/532 Sustainable Solid Waste Management collaborated to provide solutions for a more sustainable waste management program. Currently, the city has a completely privatized solid waste collection, which has resulted in inefficient collection routes and illegal dumping, both of which are associated with significant environmental hazards and unnecessary wear and tear on city roads. In an effort to fix this, the students recommended an RFP-based system overhaul, which would eliminate duplicate collection schedules by awarding exclusive routes to companies that apply to the program. The system would also significantly reduce carbon emissions from trash pickup. Following a work session that reviewed the students’ recommendations, Apache Junction City Manager Bryant Powell shared: “In one night we have advanced the conversation on solid waste more than we have in the last 10 years.” The proposed RFP-based system overhaul proposal will soon find itself in front of the City Council to be voted on for formal adoption at a future date. Sustainability in general planning The last of these recent successes involves incorporating sustainability into Apache Junction’s General Plan update. Every 10 years, the city releases an update to their General Plan, which guides Apache Junction’s future development. As a fairly young city, Apache Junction has not yet had the opportunity to view its future through a sustainability-oriented lens.  Our students are looking to change that. Students in PUP 548 Planning for Sustainable Communities worked with Sara Meerow, Assistant Professor for the School of Geographical Science & Urban Planning, to assess the City’s performance using the STAR Communities Framework. Technical changes to the STAR Communities Program were recently announced that render this specific framework outdated, but the findings and recommendations discovered through that process have provided a wealth of background information that city staff inform us will be informally adopted in the next General Plan update. Armed with our end-of-semester summary reports, city staff are prepared to ensure the work done by these students will be incorporated into the General Plan, with the potential to shape the city for decades to come. In conclusion, our partnership with Apache Junction has been mutually beneficial to the city, to our program, and to the many students involved. We are excited to watch as these changes continue to develop from our partnerships in the community. Project Cities  is a member of the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network and is administered by ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability  and the Sustainable Cities Network .