Students from the University of Oregon’s Sustainable City Year Program celebrated their yearlong partnership with the city of Albany on Thursday, June 8, by presenting the concepts they developed in class during a reception at Albany City Hall.

“We are all very pleased with all of the hard work that you have put in,” Mayor Sharon Konopa told the students. “I did not really imagine what all it could entail when we first entered this last year, but it’s just wonderful seeing the creative minds that have been looking at Albany from the outside when we’re so used to seeing it from the inside.”

The annual program selects one city and then provides 500 students from multiple academic disciplines, along with their faculty, to complete between 15 to 20 projects, ranging from parks planning to community outreach, for a total cost of about $250,000.

It’s now up to the city to decide which of these proposals they will work to implement.

UO city planning professor Marc Schlossberg led a group that focused on developing bike paths along Albany’s canal system. His students displayed proposal posters in the City Hall entrance as city officials, including Konopa, came through to ask questions about their ideas.

Mindy Schlitt, one of Schlossberg’s students, said her group sought to promote a stronger biking culture in Albany, saying it would be ideal if there were more options for getting around town other than just by car.

Her team also focused on a plan for outreach to younger members of the community they called “Safe Routes to School.”

“Through better infrastructure there is more safety, and a chance to get more kids on bikes,” she said. “It would be best if you could get anywhere by bike in Albany.”

Another group, comprised of students Sophie Mcginley, Shea Northfield and Kinsey Frey, want to create a cycling loop around the downtown area, essentially by repaving some stretches and adding a color-coded stripe as a label for the path. Northfeild said it's a cost-effective way to invite more cycling in the city. City Planning Manager Bob Richardson said the cycling infrastructure plan was something the city had requested.

Geographic Information Systems student Marisol Cervantes and her group envisioned ideas to develop a more walkable Albany, by proposing ideas like lowering speed limits.

“We wanted to improve pedestrian infrastructure by focusing on existing crosswalks and increasing signage, creating a more connected and accessible Albany,” Cervantes said.

Schlossberg, also one of the co-directors of the Sustainable Cities Initiative, the University of Oregon program that runs SCYP, said this year was a success.

“It's been a fantastic year working with Albany,” he said. “The full range of things that the city is interested in and the range of things the students work on across majors and disciplines — to connect those two and see the work by the end of the year is incredible."

Megan Banks, program manager for SCYP, echoed Schlossberg’s sentiments.

“Working with Albany has been amazing,” she said. “Students have been challenged to be creative yet realistic, and hopefully have provided the city with ideas for moving forward.”

City officials are looking at the feasibility of these concepts in the long and short term. Their immediate priorities include projects within their urban renewal district because they have funding and projects that Parks & Recreation Director Ed Hodney could put in his master parks plan. Longer-term projects, such as those that involve the construction of new buildings, are the farthest off.

Konopa was very impressed with the ideas for improving bike paths throughout the city, and expressed her interest in working to move student proposals forward.

“I think what you have done has really come up with some concepts that now we can take to the next level,” she said. “I really think we can start moving that project forward.”

Josie Fey is the University of Oregon’s Sustainable Cities Initiative journalism fellow. She recently graduated from the UO’s School of Journalism and Communication with an M.S. in journalism.

Albany Democrat-Herald reporter Neil Zawicki contributed to this story.

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