A San Diego State University project that has tackled civic issues in National City and Santee could influence similar projects in other countries through a conference planned this week in Bonn, Germany.
Linguistics professor Jessica Barlow plans to attend the Resilient Cities 2016 conference in Bonn this week, where she will explain how SDSU students helped local cities work on specific issues as part of the Sage Project, which she directs at the school.
“The panel focus will be ‘Innovative and effective ways of sharing knowledge and delivering actionable information to decision-makers,’” Barlow said, reciting the name of the session she’s attending.
While the panel title is a mouthful, the concept is simple, and it’s already catching on.
Some cities don’t have the manpower to handle all the many complex issues facing municipalities, and there aren’t enough staff members to research innovations about traffic, signage, homelessness and other issues. Many major cities do, however, have colleges and universities filled with students looking for real-world projects in their disciplines. The Sage Project connects classrooms with cities and already has worked with San Diego, Tijuana, National City and Santee. Barlow said Lemon Grove will be the Sage Project’s next partner.
The concept began about seven years ago with the Sustainable City Year Program at the University of Oregon.
The Oregon program was replicated across the country in a network called the Educational Partnership for Innovation in Communities, or EPIC.
SDSU became the first California school in the network about three years ago, and seven other California State University schools have joined since then, including San Marcos, Chico, East Bay, Fullerton, Fresno, Monterey Bay and Sonoma State.
Barlow said that around the time the network was being formed, the Pacific southwest office of the Environmental Protection Agency contacted the University of Oregon with an interest in bringing the program to California.
“They said, ‘You’re in luck, because San Diego State has a program,’” Barlow said.
Anthony Socci, senior lead on international climate policy for the EPA’s Office of Global Affairs and Policy, organized a panel that Barlow will be on with other speakers. Among the organizations represented on the panel will be NASA, the National Science Foundation, the United Nations, the United Nations University, the National Science Foundation and the city of Durban in South Africa.
“He wanted to put together a panel about improving ways of sharing knowledge and information among researchers,” Barlow. “We’re going to be talking about new and innovative ways of doing that.”
Equally important as the people on the panel may be those in the audience, which will include mayors, and community and civic leaders from more than 100 countries, she said. People from the World Bank, the United Nations, nonprofits, universities and the National Science Foundation also will be in attendance, she said.
Barlow said cities pay an average of $25,000 for each project that is tackled in partnership with the Sage Project. The cost covers field trips, internships, a paid position to write up a final report and other expenses. She plans to tell other cities not to be scared off by the cost because grants and other sources of funding can be found.
Explaining the name of the Sage Project, Barlow said each member of EPIC names its project after something in its region. Locally, she said, sage has the double meaning of wisdom and the southwest plant.
So far the Sage Project has involved students in 28 different disciplines, including geography, design, environmental engineering, civil engineering, city planning, public administration and public health. One student studying for a professional certificate in the business of craft beer at SDSU worked on a National City study of why the city had no craft beer breweries.
Another project in National City had design and geography students working on signage in the city. While the city didn’t adopt the designs, the work by the students did result in the city getting more than $1 million in grants.
“It’s an example of how a partnership can help move a project forward,” Barlow said about the city’s effort to create a signage system that is efficient and reflects the community’s character.
In another National City project, students studied uses of city-owned land that once was in a redevelopment zone. With funds for redevelopment cut, the city had to submit a long-range property management plan to the state, and Barlow said the students’ work helped the city prepare most of its documents.
Students also have worked with the city of San Diego, and in August a report on the Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team should be completed, Barlow said.
written by: Gary Warth