UO teams with city on open spaces

A law and urban planning student from the University of Oregon is working with the city of Medford to identify and increase the amount of open space available to city residents.

Jim Huber, city planning director, says the city is trying to increase open space so that all residents live within walking distance of some sort of park.

"It's nice to just to be in a spot, to maybe just sit, to think, to walk or to read," he said. "I think as time goes on and as cities get more and more developed, get more and more dense, even within built-up parts of town it's good to have these little pockets of areas where there are trees and undeveloped open areas."

KC McFerson, a law and urban planning student working with the Sustainable City Year Program, is developing a list of options on how the city can create and gain more open space. The Sustainable City Year Program, a program at the University of Oregon, partners with one city, county or organization for an entire academic year to take on various projects. The program began working with Medford in autumn and will have devoted 40,000 hours of student effort to city projects by June.

McFerson is using both her law and planning background to offer several options on how to acquire more land to be used as open space.

"If you can structure your law in a way that's flexible, then you can use incentives and good planning to accomplish a lot of the same goals that regulation tries to," McFerson said.

McFerson said the first step of her project was to determine what sort of open space Medford prefers, active or passive. Active open space is used for sports and exercise, such as recreation facilities and playing fields. Passive open space provides space for relaxation and habitat preservation, and includes trail systems and gardens.

"In this economically difficult time, cities will focus more on the recreation side, which is definitely the focus of Medford's department," she said. "It's not only that they want to have a park, but it's that they want to have a park with services that the citizens will pay for so they can keep providing services."

McFerson said her plan incorporates both types of open space. In the end, it will be up to city officials to determine what they want.

McFerson's list of planning and legal options will let city officials decide which legal or planning tools they want to use and how they want to go about it.

"We can't come in and tell them, you need to preserve these spaces," said Jared Margolis, McFerson's advisor at the UO Law School. "We want them to take what information we're giving them and develop for themselves what is best for their place and their people and then use that information to determine the amount of open space they need."

Huber said McFerson's combined planning and law background allows her to be open to a variety of perspectives.

"From a planning perspective, she can imagine the value of open space, why we're doing it, what are the land use implications for it, the whole policy basis for it," Huber says. "The legal basis is the 'how to do it' and the 'things not to do.' Basically, it's the services of two different disciplines, planning and law, combined into one person, which is pretty valuable."

Margolis said the finished plan will help the city ensure a quality of life for residents as it grows and develops, while also protecting several environmentally sensitive areas and natural features.

"I would like for Medford to come away with an understanding of how they need to move forward to protect open space," said Margolis. "Hopefully, KC will give them the tools they need to put into place a program that will really benefit their citizens."

Nicole Ginley-Hidinger is a senior at the University of Oregon majoring in journalism. She hopes to pursue a career in sports journalism.

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