Storefront in downtown Chico

CSU Chico South Campus Neighborhood Project

A partnership of CSU Chico and the City of Chico is bringing together faculty and students from seven academic departments to focus on sustainability and resiliency in Chico’s South Campus Neighborhood, a 42-block area adjacent to campus. Funding for the project, unanimously approved by the City Council, will support students working to investigate and document sustainability concerns, and to recommend actions for implementation. The project is led by CSUC’s Institute for Sustainable Development, and is unique in terms of its scale and level of commitment from both the university and the city. Funding is facilitated through a new master services agreement with the city, which may be used for contracting future projects.

This planning effort is an interdisciplinary exploration of community-scale sustainability and resiliency, with the full support and participation of city stakeholders.

In the first phase of the project, during fall of 2015, students focused on transportation issues including bicycle and vehicular traffic, transportation infrastructure and maintenance. Team members also conducted their initial outreach to a broad range of city stakeholders, and identified additional concerns within the neighborhood. In the second phase, during spring of 2016, the project focus shifted to demographics, public safety and services, street lighting, the “urban forest” and environmental quality. In final phase planned for the 2016-17 academic year, the project will outline a series of recommended actions in a final neighborhood improvement plan.

Map of transportation safety

Students in Dr. LaDonna Knigge’s Sustainable Communities course developed this map showing transportation infrastructure and perceived levels of safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Throughout the project, city managers and staff have participated during key milestones, both in the classroom and during field activities. Project teams have also collaborated with residents, businesses and community organizations.

Such immersive learning experiences give students an opportunity to interact with people outside of their usual circles, and to gain confidence by grappling with complex and ambiguous questions. These experiences are valuable additions to conventional didactic methods, and in some cases represent memorable and significant aspects of students' education.

For example, students from a participating Environmental Rhetoric course wrote to the project leaders, thanking them for the opportunity to work on the project. They described the experience as a “wonderful chance to improve a small, but very influential sector of downtown Chico,” and for which they were able to form “opinions on how best to improve.”

Students and presenter in ecology course

Parks and Natural Resources Manager Dan Effseaf discusses the urban forest with students in Dr. Amanda Banet’s Field Ecology course.

At the end of each semester, student work was presented in open-forum exhibits to which university and community stakeholders were invited. The work was revised to incorporate feedback from the community, and the final documents were provided to the city in the form of reports, with supporting maps, videos, GIS files, posters and other data.

By its conclusion in 2017, the project is expected to provide valuable resources to many community stakeholders including residents, property and business owners and community organizations. The final recommendations are expected to provide significant environmental, social and economic benefits to the community.

The South Campus community-university collaboration offers a model for campuses seeking to engage with their surrounding communities in synergistic ways, and CSU Chico is planning several outreach activities to share details of the project with other campuses. These activities include participation in the annual “This Way to Sustainability Conference,” planning a summit based on project results, and producing a series of videos to showcase successes.

Top image © City of Chico. Project images courtesy of CSU Chico.

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Key Strategies
  • Engagement with seven academic departments
  • Participation of approximately 300 students per semester
  • Collaboration with a wide range of local agencies and stakeholders
  • Two semester-long exploration phases
  • Neighborhood improvement plan to disseminate results and recommend actions
  • Open-forum exhibits to showcase results and allow feedback
  • Master services agreement between CSUC and the City of Chico
Completion Date
Project Team