UO's Sustainable City Year program heads east to Hermiston

Hermiston City Hall

For the first time in its 13-year history, the UO’s Sustainable City Year Program is partnering with a community in northeastern Oregon.

The university-city partnership program is part of the UO Sustainable Cities Institute, founded in 2009 and now duplicated around the U.S. and world under the title EPIC-N. It involves faculty and students engaged in existing courses across campus directing their coursework toward a single Oregon community over an academic year to address community-identified issues.

During the 2021-22 academic year, Sustainable City Year is uniting faculty members and students with the city of Hermiston.

“Hermiston is not only the region’s trade center; it’s a diverse and growing community,” said Megan Banks, Sustainable City Year program director. “We are pleased to partner with the city of Hermiston to examine a variety of priority issues that support livability, workforce development and community engagement.”

Hermiston has almost doubled in size since 1990 and currently has a population of almost 20,000 and according to 2020 U.S. Census data is the fastest-growing city in Eastern Oregon. Forty-six percent of residents identified as Hispanic or Latino in 2020, and 37 percent speak a language other than English at home.  

“Hermiston’s growth can be attributed to many things: a can-do spirit, a supportive business community, strong schools, proactive housing development, and investment in infrastructure and a united sense of purpose,” said Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann.

The year kicked off with five UO planning, public policy and management classes, ranging from an analysis of innovative funding options for a potential community recreation center to planning for equitable residential and commercial development in north Hermiston. Additional classes will conduct an information needs assessment to support the Hermiston library.

In addition to UO faculty members and classes, Sustainable City Year provides an opportunity for other public universities to participate. Hermiston will benefit from Portland State University civil and environmental engineering students as they develop a street plan for north Hermiston. Eastern Oregon University students will assess Hermiston’s services to ensure people are able to link to community resources to access nutritious food, shelter and safety from domestic violence, with a focus on immigrant and refugee communities and communities of color.

“The UO’s Sustainable City Year Program is providing a valuable benefit to the city of Hermiston and other communities in Oregon,” said Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith. “We are excited to have the opportunity to partner with UO faculty and students on planning projects that will help us support our growing community and workforce.”

Previous partners in Central and Western Oregon have included communities as diverse in geography and population as Salem, La Pine, Redmond, Medford, Silverton, Springfield, Albany and Gresham.

“The partnership with the city of Hermiston and SCYP, as well as the inclusion of three Oregon universities, is a great example of how this program serves communities across the state,” said Marc Schlossberg, co-founder and co-director of the Sustainable Cities Institute.