Government
Students from the UW bring energy, research and their time. Bellevue officials bring experience and knowledge. Together, they'll work on ideas to make Bellevue more livable over the next year.
Enlarge Icon
Students from the UW bring energy, research and their time. Bellevue officials bring experience and knowledge. Together, they'll work on ideas to make Bellevue more livable over the next year.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Army of UW students descends on Bellevue to identify problems

Every year, students at the UW study a city and help that city with its biggest problems. This year, they'll study Bellevue.

Running a city like Bellevue, a person can get consumed by the problems of the day. "Our staff are so busy, because of the level of service we provide to the city residents," said Danielle Verwahren, a Bellevue official.

In that environment, politics and money can narrow a bureaucrat's view of what's possible. But students haven't been worn down by countless public meetings and budget negotiations, yet.

The UW Livable City Year program brings these two sides together.

This week, students met Bellevue officials at the UW for the first time. In the year ahead, they'll spend hours talking to Bellevue residents and businesses. Under the guidance of faculty, they'll study the latest academic research on making cities livable. And at the end of the year, they'll produce glossy reports officials can share with the wider Bellevue public.

Some of their suggestions are pragmatic. They share the basic technical language of the Bellevue officials they'll work with over the next year. But dig beneath the surface, and you'll find many are motivated by an idealism that is unique to college students.

“What’s at stake is everything. This experiment with democracy, the livability of existence on this planet,” said Christoph Strouse, one of the students. He’ll be working to help Bellevue use technology to save electricity and water.

Other students will study Bellevue’s trail corridors and support its small businesses.

Bellevue officials like Emil King, a strategic planning manager, finds their ideas refreshing. He wants to know what other cities and countries are doing to "activate" their bike trails, by creating lively spaces along side them so that they're not just a place to ride through but a place to be. Students will provide that research.

"Cities have a lot going on, all at one time," said Jennifer Otten, who helps run the Livable City Year program. "The enthusiasm that students bring just cannot be underestimated."

Two years ago, Livable City Year students helped Auburn address food waste and homelessness.

Last year, they helped Tacoma survey a couple of its historic neighborhoods and create an app that helps educate elementary students on fire safety.