By Al Bravo
Nestled at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction is strategically positioned as the eastern gateway into the Greater Phoenix metro area and the western entry to the Tonto National Forest’s recreation venues. This geography, coupled with a western atmosphere, make the city appealing to residents and visitors alike.
Along with its many attractive qualities, the city of Apache Junction – like most communities – faces unique sustainability challenges as it continues to grow. It is these challenges that form the basis of a partnership with Arizona State University’s Project Cities program.
Project Cities is a university-community partnership where ASU students in designated courses work directly with a local city on a menu of co-determined, sustainability-related projects. The students – who represent multiple disciplines – research challenges chosen by the city, then propose sustainability solutions that enable the city to achieve better environmental, economic and social balance.
Apache Junction is the inaugural city partner of Project Cities, teaming up with the program for the 2017-18 cycle. Throughout the year, the two will work together on four projects, providing beneficial learning opportunities for ASU students and desirable outcomes for the city.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing what these students will learn and recommend through this innovative process,” said Apache Junction Mayor Jeff Serdy. “This is not just a great opportunity to partner with Arizona State University, this is another way to engage with the community as a whole, find ways to promote our city as a great place to visit, do business and ultimately, to live in.”
Aimed at a range of challenges, the projects include a rebranding exercise called Positively Apache Junction, a site analysis and plans for an off-leash dog park, identifying opportunities for improvements to the city’s solid waste program and policies, and supporting an effort to understand homelessness in Apache Junction. In sum, the city will engage with over 130 students in six ASU courses – representing six academic departments on three ASU campuses.
These projects provide students with the necessary opportunities to apply classroom concepts, as well as empower them to conduct research, make assessments and craft recommendations. The reports, proposals and presentations they produce enable the city to make more informed decisions in the future.
According to Project Cities Program Manager Paul Prosser, one faculty member engaged in the program has seen a significant bump in course enrollment because students are excited by the opportunity to work hands-on with a city partner.
“Project Cities will expose ASU students to the ‘real-world’ scenarios faced by our local, desert cities – experience that will prove beneficial to them when they join our workforce,” said Project Cities Director Anne Reichman. “This program will aid in creating stronger ties and opportunities with different communities and organizations throughout the region, helping ASU to have a deeper local impact in support of its charter and design aspirations.”
The partnership and four projects were formally introduced at a kick-off event at the city of Apache Junction Multi-Generational Center on Wednesday, Aug. 30.
Project Cities is a program of the Sustainable Cities Network within ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. The program is modeled after the highly-successful Sustainable Cities Year Program at the University of Oregon. Both are part of the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network, a growing coalition of 28 universities implementing this model across the United States.