Apache Junction uses Project Cities students’ recommendations for waste management

The Project Cities-Apache Junction partnership hit a new milestone in December 2019: For the second time in the two-year partnership, an applied project has seen formal implementation by the city. An Innovative New Partnership Model Throughout the course of the collaboration, the Apache Junction partnership worked with 13 unique classes and 213 ASU students from a variety of disciplines on eight different projects. The projects are bounded by the timeline of a semester, but a handful of these projects have continued to see continual success, as city staff has successfully leveraged student work to advance the issues for the community. On December 3, 2019, Apache Junction saw another great success story come from their collaboration with ASU when City Council formally adopted a new single-hauler waste management program, based on work in 2017 by ASU students under the guidance of Al Brown and Nalini Chhetri. Between the two classes, students analyzed the impacts of the city’s traditionally “hands-off” approach to waste management, then produced a final report recommending strategies for more sustainable and efficient waste management practices; chief among them being a transition to a single-hauler system. The student work served as a catalyst to advance a Request for Proposals (RFP)-based system overhaul from initial conception to implementation. Apache Junction has just completed negotiations and formally entered a contractual agreement with a single company to handle solid waste, recycling and disposal services for single-family homes and small residential complexes in the city. Al Brown, senior lecturer for the Environmental and Resource Management degree program said, “Work done by the students on behalf of cities participating in the PC program simulates assignments given to environmental professionals working in consulting and engineering companies. The PC program provides ASU students with memorable learning experiences that truly prepare them for the workforce.” The Process and the Project The stated purpose for the collaborative project with Arizona State University was to assist Apache Junction in creating a more robust set of policies and procedures to improve city-wide solid and household hazardous waste collection. The student teams were tasked with reviewing current policies and ordinances in place for Apache Junction and benchmarking against other communities’ practices. Through this analysis, students produced a list of best practices and resources and provided constructive recommendations towards a more sustainable waste management system. These past practices resulted in upstream and downstream impacts, such as an increase of wear and tear to roadways and an immensely inefficient consumption of fossil fuels. Via the new direction Apache Junction has decided to take, the community can expect to see better air quality and lower costs to residents and the city. Development Services Director, Larry Kirch, who also served as the project lead, stated: “With the comprehensive studies conducted by ASU students in-hand, the city could better understand the evidence of costs and environmental damage caused by having multiple trucks running duplicative routes.” The Hits Keep Coming This bulletin signifies a significant progress update for Apache Junction staff, but there are benefits from the Project Cities-Apache Junction program. Staff report that several of the specific recommendations are being strategically implemented in a variety of planning contexts. In addition, PC students have conducted past public outreaches for the city in a public theater-in-the-park event and cultural values mapping ⁠— data that is now available to the city for future consideration. Other significant updates include a July 2019 City Council vote which approved Apache Junction’s selection of a dog park site, informed by PC student research, as well as instruction for staff to pursue installation. Another exceptional capstone student recently presented her work on affordable housing and mobile home/RV parks directly to Council. Her work, which included an in-depth study of housing in Apache Junction and developed a whole new draft zoning ordinance, also received statewide recognition from the Arizona Planning Association and is also currently being considered for a national award. Given the short timeline of a semester-long applied project, the final impacts of the students’ work are often not realized until further down the line after staff has had the opportunity to pursue them further. We celebrate these longer-term successes and will continue to provide updates on the real-world outcomes that stem from the seeds planted by ASU Project Cities’ students. Bryant Powell, city manager of Apache Junction, was pleased with the RFP and Ordinance amendments that ASU students assisted in drafting, and claimed that “the city can’t say enough positive things about the Project Cities program and how it will continue to work in cities and towns all across Arizona. The communities and students are the beneficiaries of this visionary program!” More Noteworthy Projects to Come ASU Project Cities is currently working with the City of Peoria to establish the next phase of their partnership project that is likely to include mock-up designs that implement aspects of placemaking to improve city identity. Project Cities is a member of the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network (EPICN) and is administered by ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and the Sustainable Cities Network (SCN). 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