University of Washington and City of Tacoma Livable City Year partnership kicks off

University of Washington students and faculty are working with Tacoma community members and City of Tacoma staff this academic year on projects to improve livability and sustainability across Tacoma.

The projects are part of the Livable City Year program, which creates year-long partnerships between the UW and local governments and communities. The program links the resources and human capacity of UW students and faculty — drawing across multiple UW schools, colleges and campuses — to address real-world topics identified by the City of Tacoma. This year UW and the City of Tacoma are working together on projects that advance goals in the City’s One Tacoma: Comprehensive Plan and Tacoma 2025 strategic visioning framework.

“We are pleased to kick off our partnership with the University of Washington,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. “Like the University of Washington, we are proud to honor our public promise of making our progressive, international waterfront city an even better place to live, work, innovate, start a business, or simply call home.”

UW’s Livable City Year program launched in the 2016-2017 academic year, with 17 projects completed with the City of Auburn, the inaugural partner. The program is expanding during its second year, with students conducting about 30 projects during a year-long partnership with the City of Tacoma.

“It’s exciting to begin this year’s partnership with Tacoma and see the students start to work on these projects,” said Livable City Year faculty co-director Jennifer Otten. “Livable City Year gives students a chance to work on real-world issues that provide benefit to the community and advances the public mission of the university.”

The partnership with the City of Tacoma provides opportunities to build on existing relationships between UW Tacoma and the city, as well as create new connections across all UW campuses.

Photo by Morf Morford

Photo by Morf Morford

“Faculty across the university are looking forward to the great projects put forward by the City of Tacoma,” said Livable City Year faculty co-director Anne Taufen Wessells of UW Tacoma’s Urban Studies. “It’s terrific, coming from a campus that has always valued this kind of work, to have Livable City Year expand the scale and impact of a range of courses, UW-wide. Working together on a shared partnership can make everyone’s investment more worthwhile – City staff, faculty leads, and students at all stages of their education.”

This fall, UW students are working on a variety of Livable City Year projects including place-making planning around potential transit stations; assessing neighborhood emergency preparedness; creating a video library and social media plan for the City’s Planning and Development Services Department; creating a revitalization planning toolkit; collecting baseline data to inform the Tacoma 2025 strategic plan; working on neighborhood health indicators; creating an arts strategy for the Tacoma Mall neighborhood; and youth community mapping.

“We look forward to working with the University of Washington on realistic, specific and measurable goals to address issues such as education, employment, equity and accountability,” Tacoma City Manager Elizabeth Pauli said.

The students and faculty working on this year’s projects come from a wide variety of disciplines: on the Seattle campus, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, the Department of Urban Design and Planning, the Department of Architecture, the Department of Landscape Architecture, and the School of Public Health and at UW Tacoma, the Urban Studies Program, Milgard School of Business and the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Livable City Year is led by UW faculty directors Branden Born with the Department of Urban Design and Planning, Jennifer Otten with the School of Public Health, and Anne Taufen Wessells with UW Tacoma Urban Studies.

For more information, contact Born at or 206-543-4975; Otten at; and Maria Lee, communications specialist with the City of Tacoma at or (253) 591-2054.

- UWT, City of Tacoma


How it all started: “the Oregon Model”

In 2009, the University of Oregon pioneered a radically simple framework to help students gain hands-on experience while simultaneously helping a city work on its own city-defined goals. What emerged through an iterative and bottom-up process was the Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP), a framework based around a year-long partnership between the university and a single city in which existing courses are directed towards that city’s self-identified ‘real-world’ quality of life projects and plans. What started with a hope to match five courses with a single city to pilot a new type of partnership resulted in 19 courses across 8+ disciplines the first year, where students from the University of Oregon worked with the city of Gresham, about 100 miles from campus representing a new twist on the university-community partnership model.

Since then, the University of Oregon has worked with Salem (pop. 160,000, 60 miles from campus; 25 courses), Springfield (pop. 60,000, 3 miles from campus; 30 courses); Medford (pop. 76,000, 160 miles from campus; 35 courses); Redmond (pop. 28,000; 125 miles from campus; 22 courses); Albany (pop. 52,000; 45 miles from campus, 25 courses); and is now working with the Tri-Met transit agency (100 miles from campus; 30 courses anticipated) and La Pine (pop. 1,800, 110 miles from campus; 3-5 courses anticipated).

Projects often combine multiple disciplines to address problems from diverse perspectives; a large-scale approach provides a wide range of benefits for all stakeholders. The scale of engagement – typically 400+ students across 10+ disciplines and 20+ courses giving 50,000+ hours of effort to 15-25 city-identified vexing issues – expedites the introduction and adoption of innovative thinking into local government, increases a city’s capacity to move priority projects forward, accelerates adoption of new policy and practice, re-charges city staff toward their public sector work, and trains the next generation workforce in effective, applied, multi-disciplinary approaches toward solving local quality of life issues.

In 2010, The New York Times called SCYP “perhaps the most comprehensive effort by a U.S. university to infuse sustainability into its curricula and community outreach,” and in 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education called the model “one of higher education’s most successful and comprehensive service-learning programs.” This program has received many national awards, including from Ashoka, for its unique approach to social entrepreneurship and innovation.


In 2011, two of the Oregon creators, Professors Marc Schlossberg and Nico Larco, began training other universities and communities how to adopt and adapt the framework through a national conference and through site visits and individual technical assistance. There are now over twenty-five universities implementing or organizing to implement what was originally known as “the Oregon Model,” demonstrating its scalability and replicability across city and university types.

Today, the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network (EPIC-N) — the evolution from “the Oregon Model” — represents a significant resource to modernize the role of higher education in society and accelerate the change our communities need to meet its social, environmental, and economic challenges. The opportunities for implementation are widespread, from every corner of the United States to every region of the planet. In May 2017, EPIC-N began working with the United Nations (U.N.) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the International City Managers Association (ICMA) and others to further adapt the model to lesser developed economies and countries.

What started as a small mission to affect change in Oregon by utilizing resources that already existed within the university now represents a replicable, scalable, and flexible approach to address critical issues at the local level around the world.

              - EPIC-Network,