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


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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A “Small Community” within the Community?


Boise City Comprehensive General Plan (City of Boise, 1963)

“In the consideration of residential areas, the neighborhood is usually considered to be the basic unit. It is generally conceived of as a small community within the community having more or less homogenous physical character and interests. The preferred pattern for a neighborhood centers about the elementary school site and play area and is designed to be free of unnecessary vehicular traffic.” (Boise City Comprehensive General Plan, 1963)

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Are City “Best Of” Lists Worth the Buzz?

Stories about Boise often start the same way. First, writers rush to mention that the City of Trees is Idaho’s largest and capital city, and that it’s a relatively liberal oasis in an otherwise conservative state. For less inventive journalists, a mention of Boise State University, its football team and/or the team’s head coach Chris Petersen, warrant working into most introductory paragraphs. Change, a snippet of the state’s history and promise typify stories about many western towns, Boise included. Even The New York Times, echoed those themes (with considerably better writing) through Matthew Preusch’s “36 Hours in Boise,” and this wry opening line: “Boise, once ruled by the bait-and-bullet crowd, has embraced the lycra lifestyle.” Continue reading