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Got A Government Problem, Tacoma? College Students Are Here To Help

The University of Washington is preparing to turn students into government consultants for the city of Tacoma.

That's the next subject of the university’s Livable City Year program, which pairs students with government officials for an academic year to help study and shape policy.

Program co-director Branden Born says students can provide a fresh perspective on thorny government issues.

"They are outsiders," said Born, an associate professor of urban design and planning. "They can give ideas that the city may have never thought of or politically might not want to say."

Students are wrapping up the first year of the program. Around 300 students from about a dozen university departments trained their sights on Auburn, producing reports on everything from homelessness policy to how the city should handle school cafeteria waste, Born said. 

Livable City Year is more than an academic exercise, he said.  For each project, city officials receive a report with policy analysis and recommendations. 

"On the bookshelf, there's 20 separate little white, bound documents for 'Livable City Year: Auburn,'" Born said.

In Tacoma, university students will step into a city grappling with rapid population growth, soaring rents, questions of economic identity, and discussions around how to manage the homeless population

Born said Tacoma is an exciting subject for the second round of Livable City Year projects because the city has been focused on enacting new policies, rather than just studying them, in recent years.  

"Tacoma really gets things done," he said.

The University of Washington, he said, can offer manpower -- and, potentially, some fresh ideas. 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.