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First Livable City Year projects underway; kickoff event Oct. 6

Published on October 5, 2016

Erika Klyce, far right, with the City of Auburn speaks with graduate students in India Ornelas’ class.
Image Credit: Jen Davison, Urban@UW, University of Washington

Not even a week has passed since the start of the quarter, and already a group of University of Washington public health students is deep into discovering the cultural flavor and identity of each neighborhood in a nearby city.

The project is a sizeable challenge: Students will pour over census and public health data, interview residents, photograph neighborhoods and summarize their findings in a report. The end result will help officials in Auburn, Washington, know how to best engage and communicate with the culturally diverse populations in the city.

The neighborhoods endeavor is one of 10 initial projects in the UW’s inaugural Livable City Year program, which pairs university professors and students with Auburn staff to advance the city’s goals for livability and sustainability. The idea is to give students real-world experiences while addressing current needs identified by city leaders.

The program will formally celebrate the start of its first year at 10 a.m. Oct. 6 at wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House on the UW’s campus in a kickoff event open to all. Professors leading Livable City Year courses this fall will talk about their projects, followed by a time for Q&A.

“My students are really excited to be part of a larger initiative,” said India Ornelas, a UW assistant professor of health services who is teaching the class that will profile each Auburn neighborhood.

“They get to do something they really know will be valued and practice their professional skills to engage with each community.”

The new program is a cross-university collaboration led by faculty directors Branden Born with the Department of Urban Design and Planning and Jennifer Otten with the School of Public Health, in collaboration with UW Sustainability and Urban@UW, and with foundational support from the College of Built Environments and Undergraduate Academic Affairs. The program is also working with the nonprofit organization Association of Washington Cities.

The projects in Auburn this fall include addressing homelessness issues, building awareness of city values, understanding wastewater discharge, managing pet waste and evaluating the success of a buy-local program. UW undergraduate and graduate students in six different courses spanning environmental and public health, sociology, and urban design and planning will deliver reports and recommendations to city leadership at the end of the quarter.

Sociology professor Kyle Crowder is tackling three separate projects on homelessness in Auburn with his upper-level undergraduate course on cities and neighborhood dynamics. One will assess and prioritize Auburn’s plans for addressing homelessness, and another will develop innovative strategies for understanding the size, change and distribution of the city’s homeless population.

A third project will focus on finding incentives to maintain the city’s relatively affordable older homes in the midst of expensive residential expansion.

“These are neat projects in that they allow students to work on things that are practically important, but there’s also, in a way, a ‘dream big’ element,” Crowder said. “There are great tools and resources at this university, so the more we can bring those to the community, the better off everyone will be.”

Several projects from this quarter will continue with Auburn for the rest of the academic year, and a half dozen new ones will begin winter and spring quarters. Other cities around Washington can apply to work with the UW through the Livable City Year program in future years.


For more information, contact Livable City Year program manager Jennifer Davison at or 206-240-6903.

(Originally published by UW News & Michelle Ma)

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