Neighborhoods: Windows into Boise. The plan, the progress and the exhibit.

Preliminary brainstorming process on neighborhood capacity.

For the past five months we have delved into three Boise neighborhoods. The City of Boise approached our Community and Regional Planning graduate program with one broad task: help us understand how to increase and build neighborhood capacity. Provided with three different (and surprisingly similar) neighborhoods, we began a process that would be tiring, frustrating and most importantly, rewarding.

For a more comprehensive look at our initial goals and implementation steps, take a look at our blog on the beginning of our neighborhood project.
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The Curitiba Experiment

Grafite em Curitiba - Fernando Rosa - 1-18-2013 -

Grafite em Curitiba (Photo: Fernando Rosa, January 18, 2013)

How would cities look if urban planners, not politicians, were in charge?

Recycle City: The Road to Curitiba (New York Times, May 20, 2007)

Planning from the Outside

The long history of the city of Curitiba, in southern Brazil, demonstrates that it is perhaps the most heavily planned city in the western hemisphere. The layout of the original town, like many such colonial developments in the Americas, had been heavily influenced by the Laws of the Indies — a set of precepts from the 16th Century that dictated much of the governance of Spanish and Portuguese land holdings; which included rules for town planning. And, though Brazil gained independence from Portugal in the 1820’s it’s various cities were still governed by many of the land use laws inherited from its former European ruler. Continue reading

Neighborhoods: Windows into Boise.

Promotional Flyer for the First Thursday Sesqui-Shop Exhibition.

Promotional Flyer for the First Thursday Sesqui-Shop Exhibition.

The City of Boise asked the Boise State Community and Regional Planning graduate students to look at the neighborhoods of Boise. The task: investigate factors that would increase their planning capacity – their ability to acknowledge needs, leverage assets and apply appropriate strategies to inform the future of development. As it turns out, that is no easy task. Provided with three study areas located within the Collister, West Valley and Morris Hill neighborhoods, and encouraged to coordinate with their respective neighborhood associations, we set to work. Continue reading

Megastructure shmegastructure

“(A Mega-structure is) a large frame in which all the functions of a city or part of a city are housed. It has been made possible by present day technology. In a sense it is a man-made feature of the landscape. It is like the great hill on which Italian towns were built.” Fumihiko Maki (1964, Mega-structure: Investigations in Collective Form, the first published use of the term)

Shmeg: 1. Secretion of the male reproductive organ, a slang for semen (Urban Dictionary), 2. A derivative of the Yiddish word “shmegegge”, meaning baloney; hot air; nonsense (

downtown - combined

Boise’s 1963 proposal for a downtown “megastructure” (Atkinson Associates, Comprehensive General Plan – Boise City, Idaho 1985)

I first visited Boise in 1984 when I was a young architecture student, interested to see where my parents had moved after my dad’s retirement from the military. After leaving college, my wife and I (and our two-year old son) decided to relocate from Minneapolis to Boise. The architectural job market was hot, there was a lot of construction (especially around the recently opened Boise Towne Square Mall), and I was able to land a drafting job fairly quickly. I began to hear stories about the strangely deserted downtown, about its failed urban renewal history and its lost Chinatown. But what interested me most was the idea that Boise’s leadership had been pursuing the construction of a massive downtown shopping mall. Further, it seemed the only thing they managed to construct was the connector from the interstate to the central business district, and an oddly shaped single-story convention center with a curiously vacant adjacent plaza. Continue reading

Overlooking the potential effects of national policy.

Warren - Wikipedia, 04/09/2014

Warren – Wikipedia, 04/09/2014

When the history of Idaho is counted and retold, there are some elements that are hardly ever missed. The Oregon Trail, Lewis and Clark, Native American tribal affiliations, immigrant settlements – all of these tend to be covered and recalled without much under-representation. Another of these historic staples is Idaho’s mining industry. What do perhaps get overlooked, perhaps if only in the context of building and sustaining communities, are the national policies that affect economic efforts in the states. Idaho is no stranger to this. Limitation Order L-208 in 1942 is an example of how a national policy, and perhaps international war and conflict, can disintegrate a burgeoning town or settlement overnight. We should look at the histories of places like Warren, Idaho if we intend to learn a thing or two about planning for unexpected change in economies and policies. Building resiliency into communities should include not under-estimating the impacts of national interests and policy decisions. Continue reading

The Tribes of Idaho: A Missed Part of Idaho’s Planning Narrative

“I have created you Kootenai people to look after this beautiful land, to honor and guard and celebrate my creation here.”  — Kootenai peoples covenant with their creator, Quilxka Nupica

The Kootenai Valley, which includes Bonners Ferry and much of Boundary County. The land the Kootenia vowed to protect. Accessed from The Spokesman Review

The Kootenai Valley, which includes Bonners Ferry and much of Boundary County. The land the Kootenia vowed to protect. Accessed from The Spokesman Review

In 1974, tribal chair woman, Amy Trice, out of a desperate cry for help, declared war on the United States Government. This has gone down in Idaho’s history books as Idaho’s Forgotten War. Looking at this historically, through a planning lens the main issue is communication between jurisdictions. It seems as though the planning narrative in Idaho has missed the connection of this underrepresented group. In this blog I explore the reasons why tribes in Idaho are ignored, underrepresented, and in this case of the Kootenai, forgotten.

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Approaching neighborhoods with a community focus

Boise—city of neighborhoods? Credit: Andrew Crisp. Accessed 4/5/2014.

Boise—city of neighborhoods? Credit: Andrew Crisp. Accessed 4/5/2014.

This Spring, members of our Community and Regional Planning cohort have embedded themselves within three Boise neighborhoods, Morris Hill, West Valley and Collister. Through interviews with residents and major stakeholders, each neighborhood has revealed a rich local history, diverse, fascinating individuals and together have opened a window into better understanding the larger city itself. However, our process, in my mind, has also revealed the blatant underrepresentation of neighborhoods within the local planning process.

Boise can and should more fully embrace a neighborhood planning approach. Both city officials and residents themselves have made strides in recent years, but more can be done to integrate a neighborhood focus into the larger effort to guide growth and change in the city. Instead of planning for neighborhoods, policymakers ought to engage in efforts to empower neighborhoods to plan for themselves.
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