The Sustainable City Year Program and La Pine, Oregon

By Payton Bruni

Eugene, Oregon – When University of Oregon professors Marc Schlossberg and Dyana Mason chose the projects their students would work on with the city of La Pine, they wanted to prioritize not their own interests or the students’ interests, but the community’s. “Everything we do is to add value to the community; that is our starting point,” said Schlossberg. “If anything we do is totally counter to a community’s desire, well, that’s a waste of everyone’s time.”

Since spring term began in April, Schlossberg and Mason have collaborated through the university’s Sustainable City Year Program to give students real-world learning experiences while benefiting the city.

Schlossberg’s and Mason’s courses, in addition to those taught in the previous winter term, have worked to produce plans and recommendations that the city can use.

La Pine City Manager Cory Misley said he is excited to review all of the projects once the academic year has been completed. “I do think there are kernels of usefulness in all of them,” he said.

Mason’s course on nonprofit consultancy focused on the La Pine Senior Center. Graduate student Jenn Casey, one of three students who has analyzed the senior center, said her group’s project looked for ways to bring in more revenue, attract new members and increase the effectiveness of the center’s board of directors. Casey said the last step of the project will be to present a “written document to the board that will provide recommendations.”

In Schlossberg’s class, students evaluated bicycle transportation in La Pine. Some student groups looked at bicycle tours and tourism, while others looked for ways to make biking safer within the city. Overall, the student projects were geared toward finding concrete ways to make biking in La Pine more desirable.

However, depending how difficult some of the projects are to implement, it may take time before the student ideas are given shape. Misley said, “I think it’s less a matter of if they could be implemented, but more of when.”

Primarily, the two constraints the La Pine city government will have to face are its staff size and budgeting.

Misley emphasized that although he was looking forward to seeing what the students have produced, it’s important to realize that a small city doesn’t have a planning department that is able to designate multiple project managers for one project. La Pine is limited in how many projects it can implement.

Misley stressed the importance of considering funding and how the city could budget around that aspect. Misley said, “We would need to look at the feasibility of the project -- look at how heavy of a lift it is and how much is it going to cost.”

But in spite of the challenges the city government faces, UO students were still encouraged to pursue large-scale projects. Schlossberg, who has worked with seven other cities, said La Pine told his class to be the “least restrained in our thinking.”

Schlossberg said he was told by the city, “Look, even the things that might be really expensive, don’t necessarily rule them out if they’re the right idea. Because we’re open to try and come up with the resources to do it.”

Schlossberg cited previous projects as evidence to his class’s potential. “A couple years ago when I worked with Redmond, collectively the students came up with 17 policy ideas, and the city adopted 15 of them almost instantly into local policy and code,” he said.

In Mason’s class, and Casey’s project, the end product was not only meant to be beneficial to the La Pine Senior Center, but feasible. Casey said, “We’re giving recommendations that are absolutely ready to be implemented, and giving them in a way that can be implemented now and as time moves on.”

As for his expectations from collaborating with SCYP, Misley said, “One thing that I had a hunch heading into winter term is that what we get out of these projects and out of these classes is really going to rely on largely what we put into it.”

Misley said he hasn’t had much time to digest some the details of the projects, but he was excited to look over the information in the summer after it has been distilled by SCYP staff members Megan Banks and Katie Fields.

“I would say that our hope is to take something away something from every single project in every single class,” Misley said. “It just kind of depends on what spin we put on it and how ready it is to move forward with next steps.”

Payton Bruni is an undergraduate student in the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. Upon graduation in June 2019, he plans to become a war correspondent.