Voices (blog)


Getting to “press release”

Jen Davison of UW's Livable City Year

“Just start,” they said, “you’ll be amazed!”

Marc Schlossberg and Nico Larco, the passionate and convincing co-directors of University of Oregon’s Sustainable Cities Initiative and Sustainable City Year Program, seem to say this to anyone curious about launching an efforts similar to theirs, which has been running for about 7 years and has been the model for dozens of other programs across the country. When I first met Marc and heard about SCYP in early March 2016, I was unsure about the prospect of creating such a robust initiative, connecting city and faculty for a whole year’s worth of collaborations, at University of Washington.

Branden Born (the co-director of UW’s new Livable City Year, and professor in UW’s Department of Urban Design and Planning) and I were lucky: at the 2016 Sustainable City Year Conference we met Jenna Leonard (Climate and Sustainability Practice Leader with the City of Auburn’s CDPW-Environmental Services Division), who knew the SCYP model and was looking to develop a partnership with a Washington university. Although I had heard about this model only 10 days before, Branden and Jenna were fully briefed and raring to get started. Throughout the content-rich conference (highly recommended BTW), as I was getting my head around what exactly this program does and why it matters, we three also continually squirreled away to discuss how it might play out at UW with Auburn as its first partner.

Six months later, Branden and myself, as well as Jen Otten with UW's School of Public Health and collaborators at Urban@UW and UW Sustainability just published our press release. And what Marc and Nico said has been absolutely true:

  • Faculty are really excited about this opportunity to connect their courses with city projects.
  • The partner city provided exciting and diverse projects—and funding to support the partnership.
  • The model that the EPIC-Network uses is accessible and appealing to administrators and students alike—as is the video!

It has been a lot of work so far to “just start,” and we’ve learned quite a bit already:

  • Use the EPIC-N materials and network; they save soooo much time when you’re developing procedures and scoping out timelines for the partnership and the program.
  • Connect with your community partner often. In our case, Jenna has been fantastic to work with, committed and effective in helping us navigate city requirements.
  • You never know where support will come from! During our pilot year we are shouldering part of the cost. By its field-tested effectiveness and win-win ethos, this model has inspired monetary support from our College of Built Environments, the Department of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, and Urban@UW, as well as invaluable conversations and support from across campus as well as the Association of Washington Cities and the EPA.

We’re now immersed in connecting faculty to projects and planning our fall kickoff, and I expect a lot more learning will happen as we move forward. And I expect it will be amazing!

Jason Vargo