Students help with one city’s move toward a more sustainable future

The city of Salinas is getting help from Cal State Monterey Bay students and faculty members.

The city was chosen as the partner for CSUMB’s first Sustainable City Year Program, a collaboration involving a handful of classes working with city officials toward a more sustainable, livable city.

“Students bring enthusiasm and get real-world experience, faculty members bring expertise,” said Professor Dan Fernandez, who is coordinating the yearlong effort. In addition, the program provides opportunities for community engagement and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Rendering of a more sustainable, livable downtown Salinas

Several topics were tackled during the fall semester:

• Professor Fernandez’s Environmental Studies 375 class, Sustainability Systems, looked at and modeled aspects of traffic congestion on West Alisal Street, examining different models of road modifications.

• Dr. Bhupendra Patel’s Social and Behavioral Sciences 361 class in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) helped city officials address challenges they face with driving and parking infrastructure.

• Students in Professor Jennifer Dyer-Seymour’s Psychology 395 special topics class looked at the role smartphones play in affecting the quality of communication between parents and their children in public venues.

Downtown neighborhood area of Salinas

Spring classes will continue to look at traffic congestion, walkability and bikeability along West Alisal Street, the use of GIS to inform the sustainable development of downtown Salinas, and the ways in which Salinas parents and children effectively communicate. The project is conceptual in principle, but the hope is that it provides insight to the city, while giving students exposure to challenges facing local governments. The Sustainable City Year Program started at the University of Oregon in 2009 when several faculty members, knowing the pressures that cities face with limited budgets, outdated infrastructure and ailing urban centers, saw an opportunity.

Since then, the idea has spread to other universities, including San Diego State, which has had dozens of classes participate each year on multiple city-related projects.

While the program is in its first year at CSUMB, Dr. Fernandez wants it to continue. “I hope the Sustainable City Year Program goes on indefinitely,” he said.

Published Jan. 12, 2016