City, students partner on Eugene issues

December 8, 2015

On Halloween night, two University of Oregon students went door-to-door in the Friendly Neighborhood to engage neighbors and gather design ideas for a class initiative that would renovate a nearby intersection.

Jackie Stinson (right) and Dianna Montzka (left)
Above: Jackie Stinson (right) and Dianna Montzka (left) on Halloween night, before they share their Tactical Urbanism proposal with neighbors in the Friendly Neighborhood. See a video of comments from city staff, UO faculty members, and students talking about the class. Photo by Emerson Malone.

Neighbors who answered their doors didn’t find trick-or-treaters, but rather undergraduate students Jackie Stinson and Dianna Montzka, who shared their project on repairing and painting the 26th Avenue and Olive Street intersection.

“We wanted to take advantage of Halloween because we knew that’s the best chance we had for people to open their doors and welcome strangers,” says Montzka, an undergraduate architecture major. “Each house was overwhelmingly positive.”

The 26th Avenue and Olive Street intersection is the only four-way intersection on College Hill without a stop sign, says Bethany Steiner, course co-instructor and associate director of the Community Planning Workshop, in the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management. City officials had turned down a Friendly Neighborhood resident’s request for a stop sign to be mounted at the intersection, because the intersection’s accident rate wasn’t high enough to merit the sign.

The group’s plan for an art installation in the road would theoretically encourage drivers to slow down through the intersection. An illustration of Spencer Butte, visible from the neighborhood, is being considered as a potential design.

Stinson and Montzka are working with PPPM students Megan Knox, Morgan Greenwood, and Bryce Yoshikawa in the “Tactical Urbanism” group—a term defined as “a short-term action that produces a long-term change.”

The group’s project, in collaboration with city officials, is a component of the 400-level PPPM course “Real World Eugene.” The class introduces students to Eugene city officials and provides opportunities for professional teamwork.

Other class projects include: forming a “contaminant notification system” for a pilot residential composting program in Eugene; studying students’ driving patterns to and from campus; and identifying how the city can best engage millennials in community decision-making.

City officials initiated all the projects.

“It’s part of our goal to utilize students’ creativity, expertise, and energy to help the city solve problems,” says Steiner. “It’s a really cool way to run a class.”

The group’s objective is to create a free guidebook, specific to Eugene, about the process of tactical urbanism. The goal is for community members to be able to enact similar undertakings with the support of local government. The guidebook will include a step-by-step process, what grants are available from the city, and a contact list of who to consult.

Stinson says the intent of the guidebook is to provide neighbors more information on taking action and make tactical urbanism less daunting.

“I think the guidebook would benefit the community. It’s something a lot of people know about or have heard about but aren’t quite sure how to do,” says Jason Dedrick, a policy analyst for the City of Eugene. “There are things related to tactical urbanism online. This will personalize it, make it more about Eugene, and benefit community members.”

Dedrick, who connected all four groups with community officials, says the coursework lets students try their hand at city planning and policy work.

“Students have a different lens and are willing to ask questions that other [city officials] wouldn’t think to ask,” says Dedrick. “For us, it really helps to tighten [the City’s] relationship with the university.”

Students brainstorm strategies during their final review
Above: Students brainstorm strategies during their final review. Photo by Chloe Peterson.

Steiner and Bob Parker, course co-instructor and director of the Community Service Center, were awarded the Williams Fund to finance and authorize the course, which is being offered for the first time.

“This idea of undergraduates doing real-world work is really experimental; it could have not worked at all. The Williams Fund allowed us to take that risk and see how it works,” says Steiner.

Parker adds, “Real World Eugene is a unique opportunity for students to work on pressing community problems that are important to the city and to the community. It’s been very exciting to observe how the students engage in what amount to complicated community issues and how they work together to creatively problem solve. For the students, it’s a unique experience that cannot be replicated in the classroom.”

Another student group is working with the city on developing a contaminant notification system for the City’s pilot residential composting program. By collaborating with the Waste Prevention and Green Building team and other key stakeholders in the community, the group hopes to create a monitoring plan to achieve the goals of each participant.

The class’s “College Student Vehicle Use” group is working with the City of Eugene’s transportation planning division to investigate how students get to campus each day, and to understand why students who drive to campus make that choice. The group includes students Corum Ketchum, Madeleine McNally, Max Morrison, and Mitch Koch.

The group visited different student-housing parking lots and garages throughout Eugene (such as 13th and Olive, Ducks Village, and the Hub) at nighttime and again the following morning, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when students’ cars would be used.

“By dividing the cars in the morning by the cars at night gives us the number of cars that left,” says Ketchum, a PPPM major. “That shows which students are using their vehicles to get to campus or work.”

These factors, supplemented by student replies to a survey about driving habits, will help the City better understand why students choose to drive to campus. This information is important for the City and the UO to consider when making relevant policy decisions.

“We have a unique perspective as students because we can get student insight. Often these decisions [that affect students] are done in silos,” says PPPM major McNally. “The city has a task on their hands to try to plan for student behavior. But students represent such a diverse population.”

The group considers numerous factors—rain, lack of sheltered bike parking, and long distances between home and school—that may encourage a student to use a car.

“They’re finding out how diverse and all-encompassing the issue really is,” says Dedrick.

Instructor Bethany Steiner and students
Above: Instructor Bethany Steiner, associate director of the Community Planning Workshop, gives students feedback during the “Real World Eugene” final review. Photo by Chloe Peterson.

The “Millennials and Engagement” group is studying how the City of Eugene can better communicate with and engage the millennial population. Establishing a connection between city planners and millennials (those born between 1980 and 1999) encourages student involvement with the city.

“The city really wants to hear from young people about how the city should run and what services it should offer, but historically has had a difficult time engaging the population,” says Steiner.

Steiner hopes the course becomes a regular offering in the PPPM curricula.

“My hope is that we continue to partner with the City of Eugene so that we continue to strengthen our relationship and create some systems that make sense,” she said. “It’s important to stay local. I believe in the university directly interacting with the city.”

The students presented findings from the class to a packed house at the Eugene Public Library during finals week. Steiner showed a video compilation of comments from city staff, UO faculty members, and students talking about what the class means to them.