Project Cities students work together to solve local sustainability challenges

A multidisciplinary group of ASU students is researching sustainable solutions for the city of Apache Junction

From sustainability and urban planning to theater and public service, students across multiple disciplines at ASU are combining their talents to help local cities improve their infrastructure.

ASU Project Cities is a program administered under the ASU Sustainable Cities Network that allows students to work together to research problems in a chosen city and collaborate on innovative sustainability strategies to provide the city with a better future.

The students will present the sustainable solutions they have produced for the city of Apache Junction at a showcase on the ASU Tempe campus on April 25 as part of the School of Sustainability Spring 2018 Showcase during Earth Month at ASU

Paul Prosser, ASU Project Cities program manager, said the goal of Project Cities is to provide students the opportunity to do hands-on work with cities as opposed to a theoretical approach, and also utilize that work to help improve the quality of life in those cities. 

“The main mission is to connect the University with cities in a positive way,” Prosser said. “It is always a collaborative effort, it’s a co-creation of knowledge and results.”

Prosser said this hands-on approach gives students insight to the challenges they may encounter when they enter the workforce, as well as provide them with the ability to connect with city professionals and consider jobs they want to pursue later in their careers.

Gurnoor Kaur, a masters student of urban and environmental planning with a background in urban design and architecture, said her experience with designing portable housing helped spark her interest in Project Cities. The project she worked on sought to retrofit trailer parks with tiny homes and shipping container residences in order to provide affordable but sustainable housing solutions without displacing local communities. 

“This was something I’ve always wanted to research about and just learning how important mobile home parks are, especially for low income to middle income groups, was really interesting,” Kaur said.

She said students from different disciplines can help in different ways, and because of her background in design, she was able to offer a "different solution spectrum."

Catyana Falsetti, a masters student of urban and environmental planning with a background in forensic sciences, said she worked with Project Cities and Apache Junction through the Planning for Sustainable Communities class.

Falsetti said she thinks there are many people who assume that environmental and economical issues cannot be changed.

“I think it’s important to understand the mechanism that runs the governments, cities, everything, so we can understand how it can be changed,” Falsetti said. 

She said the public sector should fully embrace sustainable planning and view the environment as a valuable resource.

Prosser said the importance of sustainability goes beyond the program, and it’s important for communities to realize they are either part of the problem or the solution. However, he said most people do want to make a difference.

“I hope we can help students feel like and see that they are making a difference in some of these communities,” Prosser said.

“We’re learning that the younger generation is really going to surprise people, especially given some of the issues with gun control and the #MeToo movement. Students and young people are really going to make some big changes soon, and I’m hopeful for the future because of that.” 

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