Planning a Sustainable Future

Sara Meerow


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According to the national nonprofit organization STAR Communities, a sustainable city has a healthy environment and a strong economy and cultivates well-being for its residents. STAR Communities, which stands for “Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities,” is a data-driven system created by local governments to enable them to assess their efforts, track progress, and create a roadmap toward a sustainable future. The seven-goal areas of its framework for assessing cities are Built Environment; Climate and Energy; Economy and Jobs; Education, Arts, and Community; Equity and Empowerment; Health and safety; and Natural Systems. Apache Junction has already begun implementing sustainability efforts, such as hosting a farmers market, releasing ladybugs to control pests, and getting government buildings LEED-certified. Its 2010 GeneralPlan acknowledges important aspects of sustainability such as energy efficiency. However, the city aspires to broadly integrate sustainability in an action-oriented way. Officials want to know how the city is performing, what more it could do to be sustainable, and how to grow and evolve sustainably. Further, how can Apache Junction engage its community in these efforts? And finally, how can this be more thoroughly implemented in the 2020 General Plan Update?

To help Apache Junction answer these questions, the Spring 2018Arizona State University course PUP 548: Planning for SustainableCommunities partnered with Project Cities to assess sustainability in Apache Junction using the STAR Communities framework. The students examined all seven goal areas, assessing the city’s current performance and future needs while looking to peer cities to inform their recommendations. To do so, they reviewed city documents and used resources such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s American CommunitySurvey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access ResearchAtlas. They also took part in seminars and meetings with the city, interviewed community members and city staff, and conducted onsite observation.

This graduate-level class was dedicated to assessing Apache Junction’s sustainability performance and creating actionable recommendations for the city. To do so the students divided into pairs or individually tackled one of the seven Goal Areas, reviewing each objective of the goal areas and evaluating Apache Junction’s performance. Based on these results, and in some cases through consulting case studies of peer cities, the students created recommendations for the city. For each goal area, they presented general recommendations for action and specific recommendations for the 2020 General Plan. Among the general and specific recommendations were: 1) Diversify water sources;2) develop indicators that quantitatively measure the community preparedness for environmental threats and create goals for these indicators; and 3) engage retirees in sharing their knowledge with and providing services for local businesses.

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