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.
We knew we had an interesting task ahead, at the onset we didn’t realize how complex and different these neighborhoods actually are; from each other, from their immediate surroundings, and from the larger city. We found that using the neighborhood as a metaphorical window, through which to view the city from a unique vantage point, revealed to us something that we may not be fully acknowledging: the perspective of the residents.
On “First Thursday,” May 1st, at the Downtown Boise Sesqui-Shop gallery, we will be offering Boise residents a view through those windows, showcasing these three areas and their respective histories and assets. We’ll also be inviting all visitors to participate in a larger, month-long event at the gallery—one that will allow them the opportunity to interact with a map of Boise and identify the “places” that are important to them.
History informs almost every public and private decision regarding city planning – even if it isn’t explicitly discussed. How an area grew and shaped over time involved a mixture of social, cultural, environmental and economic factors. That’s actually one way of revealing what history really is: delineating change over time. So even though we may not be constantly looking through the mirror of history when considering planning and developing, we should in fact always consider these factors when weighing the appropriateness of proposed changes. Through our exhibition at the Sesqui-Shop, we hope to reveal how history has shaped and influenced these three areas of the community, and depict how their unique past can and should inform future changes.
What we probably do not realize (at least not to the same extent as the historical narrative) is that neighborhoods are composed of unique places, with unique characteristics. The calling card of these places is that they are special to the residents within the neighborhoods – they are, in fact, what make the neighborhoods’ quality of life highly desirous. Like a neighborhood’s history, its special places distinguish it from its surroundings and impart a diversity of melodious experience to the larger community. They are often as different as they are inextricably linked to the city, and their chorus sings the song of community.
We can hear these unique tonalities by asking residents “Where to you live and where do you go?” The answers provided can give some intriguing results, depending on the harmonics between a neighborhood’s assets and gathering places. During our research phase, we did just that in the Collister, West Valley, and Morris Hill areas. The results were more interesting than we had imagined.
It was so interesting in fact; that we decided it would be both fun and informative to invite people to do the same while visiting the gallery. We’ve constructed the beginnings of a massive map of Boise, with pins and strings for visitors to interact with and construct their own connections between their favorite places and their homes.
The history of place is often overlooked in considering neighborhoods and their relationship to their particular city network. Investigating the history of our neighborhoods provides a unique perspective that offers an understanding of that certain place, and how it fits into the entirety of the city. Looking into the historically rich Collister, West Valley and Morris Hill areas has provided a unique residential illustration of Boise. From this perspective, Planning and Development can make more informed decisions regarding the future of these places by listening to what the residents have said what’s most important to them. Giving neighborhoods a voice in community decisions will not only improve the lives of its residents, but will increase the livability of the city as a whole. The people and neighborhoods that comprise a city are the lifeblood that transforms a sterile space into a robust and vibrant place.
Authors: Cody Butler, Andrew Crisp, Dean Gunderson; Sean Kelly, Stephanie Leonard, Kyle McCormick; Tod Morris, Ryan Strong.