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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In Boise’s Collister neighborhood, subdivisions and shifting land use

SycamoreScale

The Sycamore Neighborhood, a district of large lots within the larger Collister Neighborhood Association Boundaries. In red, the “Collister Center” shopping development. In yellow, the approximate site of Dr. Collister’s 20-bedroom mansion (now the site of Boise City Fire Station No. 9). City of Boise Advanced Property Research. Accessed 3/8/2014.

Water and agriculture played prominent roles in fostering growth in the Collister neighborhood, a bucolic ‘burb nestled against Boise’s foothills. But it was through transportation and urbanization, through an electric streetcar line threaded through Collister Station, mixed with an influx of business and new residents, that later solidified the characteristics of this unique area.

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Building heights and public places: finding a modern approach for Washington, D.C.

L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C. Courtesy Library of Congress.

L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, D.C. Courtesy Library of Congress.

French artist and engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant, in his original 1791 plan for the nation’s capital Washington, D.C., designed a grid system intersected by a series of avenues radiating from the young country’s two prominent governmental buildings, houses for both Congress and the President. His plan envisioned a “grand avenue” at the heart of this grid—an idea which has evolved in subsequent years.

While L’Enfant’s work remains visible today across Washington, the goals and details of his plan have been hotly contested in subsequent planning efforts, during the city’s centennial and more recently—spawning controversy over how best to sculpt the city into a more complete version of L’Enfant’s original work, or to forego history in favor of forward-thinking ideas.

Below are a number of past efforts to meld the historic—the emotionally-charged inception of what some regard as the United States’ most important city—with modern realities, and often with influential pressures for contemporary urban design approaches.

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History and Planning in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Quintessential New York Neighborhood

A young family crosses a major street in Bed-Stuy. This historically diverse neighborhood is part of the heart of Brooklyn. Credit Matthew Chamberlain.

A young family crosses a major street in Bed-Stuy. This historically diverse neighborhood is part of the heart of Brooklyn. Credit Matthew Chamberlain.

Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of more than a hundred distinct neighborhoods in New York City. Located in historically cosmopolitan Brooklyn, the common narrative of this culturally rich area represents a story of immigration and later ethnic enclave, of major demographic shifts and precipitous change. Today, common themes about neighborhood history remain a consistent influence in the area’s community building efforts.
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Lagos struggles to plan for ‘Informal Cities’

Makoko, a settlement with order and structure, but operating outside of local and federal government authority, and facing real challenges--including access to clean water, good jobs and education. Photo courtesy Rainer Wozny, Flickr.

Makoko, a settlement with order and structure, but operating outside of local and federal government authority, and facing real challenges–including access to clean water, good jobs and education. Photo courtesy Rainer Wozny, Flickr.

Near the heart of Lagos, capital city of Nigeria and home to an estimated 21 million people, a shantytown known as Makoko fans out over Lagos Lagoon. Residents live in makeshift homes constructed with bamboo, driftwood and sheets of corrugated steel, built on stilts above the channel’s murky waters. Transportation takes place in canoes, navigated through a complex informal network of canals. Homes are connected by wooden planks. Subsisting as fishermen and laborers, the people of Makoko struggle with access to both education and clean, safe drinking water. No official census has been conducted in the overwhelmingly poor district, but estimates suggest as many as 250,000 people live in this seaside “slum.”
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Public Art: a focus on projects, or a process?

A scene from April's "Remnants of Boise" exhibit, an art show exploring issues of historic preservation and community character.  Courtesy City of Boise.

A scene from April’s “Remnants of Boise” exhibit, an art show exploring issues of historic preservation and community character.
Courtesy City of Boise.

The City of Boise’s “Sesqui-Shop,” located at 1008 W. Main St., evokes all the charm of a living room, furnished with trendy wood-paneled benches, cozy easy chairs and walls festooned with bright artwork. Perhaps by accident or design, it’s an environment conducive to conversations about planning–far removed from the bureaucratic confines of administrative hearings and Planning and Zoning department cubicles. Originally billed as an art gallery and events space, the Sesqui-Shop has become a de facto place for fostering a community discussion about arts, culture and civic engagement in the city’s downtown core.
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Kickstarted: Crowd-funding Projects for Urban Environments

A view of a project proposal successfully funded via the Kickstarter platform. Courtesy + POOL Kickstarter page. http://kck.st/11VY7Sd

A view of a project proposal successfully funded via the Kickstarter platform.
Courtesy + POOL Kickstarter page. http://kck.st/11VY7Sd

It wasn’t the same old Duany song-and-dance at a recent conference hosted by the Florida chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism. At the University of Miami in late January, acclaimed neotraditionalist architect and planner Andres Duany, of Seaside fame, “fell on his sword,” writes planner-writer Erin Chantry. The New Urbanist pioneer, humbled, admitted that tenets of the philosophy he helped make famous, years later, required rethinking.
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