In 2018, La Pine will play host to a pilot program from the University of Oregon, designed to help the state’s youngest city grow its urban infrastructure.
Beginning in January, La Pine will be a part of the university’s Sustainable City Year Program, which will bring dozens of graduate and undergraduate students to La Pine to work on projects that range from leveraging the city’s industrial land to developing regional standards for solar energy.
“Central Oregon is a pretty special place and anything we can do in La Pine and Deschutes County will make a difference,” said Megan Banks, program manager for the Sustainable Cities Initiative, which produces the program.
The Sustainable City Year Program, begun in 2009, is designed to bring interdisciplinary community-focused projects from the classroom into urban centers across the state, according to Marc Schlossberg, co-manager of the Sustainable Cities Initiative. Schlossberg said the associated classes — which will focus on everything from economic development to bicycle transit — primarily take place in Eugene, but students will travel back and forth to La Pine, work with city officials, and develop projects designed to advance existing civic projects and kick-start new ones.
“The program really only exists to help communities move their own agendas forward,” Schlossberg said.
This will be the program’s second trip to Central Oregon; the Sustainable Cities Initiative brought around 450 graduate and undergraduate students to Redmond during 2015 and 2016.
Keith Witcosky, Redmond’s city manager, said students worked on projects that ranged from designing a prototype of a new police station, to mapping parts of the city to improve walkability in certain neighborhoods.
“We found it to bring a lot of innovative thinking,” Witcosky said of the program’s impact on Redmond.
While the Sustainable City Year Program has mainly focused on larger cities, including Albany and Salem, Banks said La Pine is part of a pilot project designed to bring the bring the program to Oregon’s smaller cities.
“Small cities have just as many needs as large cities, but often lack the infrastructure to solve them,” Banks said.
Cory Misley, city manager of La Pine, added that the city began looking for ways to bring the program to La Pine about two years ago, but an attempt to partner with the city of Sisters fell through. Misley said the city reached out to the Ford Family Foundation, a nonprofit foundation based in Roseburg, to help fund the pilot project.
The program is slated to span much of the year, with courses beginning after a kickoff meeting Jan. 12 and extending into the fall quarter. Schlossberg said the program will include between eight and 12 10-week courses throughout 2018, each bringing between 10 and 45 students to La Pine to complete various projects. Misley added that the classes will be designed to dovetail with the city’s objectives.
“I’m really optimistic that these students are going to take a lot of pride in these projects,” Misley said.
For La Pine, which incorporated in 2007 and lacks the resources of larger cities, the program could provide a framework to help the city develop a true downtown and solve some of its persistent problems, according to Misley.
“Things most cities take for granted, we have to look at with fresh eyes,” he said.
For example, Misley said La Pine is working toward building a transit center in its downtown corridor along Huntington Road. He added that the program should provide a basic model for the project, that the city could then bring to a developer once they have funding in place.
Misley said some of the students taking an economic development course — one of four classes confirmed for the winter quarter — will focus on developing the city’s industrial park, which has lots of undeveloped land relative to other Central Oregon cities, but has struggled to attract development. Other students taking the course will focus on what industries the small city is well-positioned to attract.
Additionally, La Pine will host a course on passive solar heating, where students are expected to develop a set of standards for solar in south Deschutes County’s sunny-but-cold conditions that could be passed along to developers.
“(University of Oregon) faculty are very intrigued with Central Oregon, based on how much sun we get,” Misley said.
The city will also host a class designed to bridge journalism and community involvement, as well as a public relations class that will document the experience. Each class will coordinate with a member of La Pine’s staff, and members of the class will present their findings at the end of the course. Schlossberg said the University of Oregon will hire one student from each class to aggregate the projects and present them to the city.
“Our goal is that all these projects are catalysts,” Misley added. “We’re entering, to a degree, a new chapter of the city’s existence.”
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