Graduate-level class provides actionable sustainability recommendations to Apache Junction

Apache Junction partnered with ASU’s Project Cities to research potential pathways toward a more sustainable, community-centric 2020 General Plan


Devin R. Larsen


Steve Russell, Marshall Curry


Apache Junction, Arizona, USA
Community Size
41,739 (2018 Census Estimation)
Arizona State University
Project Cities
Case Type
Project Stories
School Size
Greater than 40,000
Focus Areas
Environment Sustainability
GIS, Urban and Regional Planning
EPA Region 9, USA
Community Partner Department
Economic Development
University Department Code
Urban and Regional Planning
Sustainable Development Goals
11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
Community Population Sizes
41739 (2018 Census Estimation)
Population Type

A relatively young city rich in natural resources and assets, Apache Junction provides its residents with a high quality of life. Even as the city has grown, they have made concerted efforts to involve citizens in their city-planning process. While the city has implemented sustainability efforts beneficial for both its community and environment in its 2010 General Plan, from hosting a farmers market to getting government buildings LEED-certified, they still aspired to integrate sustainability efforts in a more intentional way.

In an effort to establish a more sustainable General Plan for 2020, Apache Junction sought out an independent group to conduct an internal audit. A member of the EPIC-Network, Arizona State University’s Project Cities was invited to participate and engage with the research and development of Apache Junction’s 2020 General Plan. ASU’s Project Cities, which “connects higher education with local communities,”dedicated a graduate-level class to assess the city’s sustainability efforts and performance, while creating action-oriented recommendations for future implementation.

The involved Arizona State University students assessed the city’s sustainability performance using the STAR Community framework. Standing for “Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities,” STAR Communities (now known as LEED for Cities and Communities) is a national sustainability metrics tracking effort supported by a coalition of local municipalities. The STAR framework is a data-driven assessment tool that allows local governments to “measure community sustainability based on social, economic and environmental indicators.” (PC Spring 2018 Guide)

Students saw this as an excellent set of metrics, that could enable them to assess past and current sustainability efforts, while defining potential roadmaps toward a more sustainable future. They planned on researching and exploring Apache Junction’s seven major STAR Goal Areas:

  • Built Environment; Climate and Energy
  • Economy and Jobs
  • Education, Arts, and Community
  • Equity and Empowerment
  • Health and Safety
  • Natural Systems.

From this, they would identify indicators for future action, which could be implemented into Apache Junction’s 2020 General Plan Update.

Based off of comparative literature research and the consultation of numerous peer city case studies, ASU graduate students created recommendations for Apache Junction’s 2020 General Plan based off of the seven STAR Communities goal areas. Recommendations provided by students research included some of the following:

  • Introduce a new water resource strategy to diversify water sources;
  • Create a performance-measurement system that tracks greenhouse gas emissions, which transparently provides neighborhood-level data;
  • Have community college students and retirees share their knowledge to aid economic development strategies.

Student recommendations, informed by the STAR framework, illuminates actionable opportunities and plans intended to make Apache Junction’s 2020 General Plan more sustainable. These recommendations are now readily available to city professionals, policy makers, and residents, which can stimulate conversations around their implementation regarding financial and time-bound considerations.

University Capital

Classes 1 Classes
Students 10 Students
Hours 1,350 Hours
Disciplines 1 Disciplines
Projects 1 Projects
Faculty Members 1 Faculty Members

Community Results

Community Satisfaction

“The city of Apache Junction was extremely fortunate to be the inaugural city for the Project Cities program. The city, community residents, ASU students, faculty and staff worked on a total of nine different projects.”

Return on Investment

"All of the projects and studies paid high dividends to the community."


Arizona State University Project Cities Contact
Steve Russell
Program Manager
(480) 727-2698

City of Apache Junction Contact
Larry Kirch
Development Services

Read the full story of the partnership.

Read the final student report delivered to the local gov/community partner.

"The city of Apache Junction was extremely fortunate to be the inaugural city for the Project Cities program. The city, community residents, ASU students, faculty and staff worked on a total of nine different projects."

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