They get it in Idaho: multi-use urban developments are a concept that everyone, not just high-brow academics, can understand and contribute to. Renovating under-developed and deteriorating neighborhoods doesn’t have to involve the threats of “eminent domain” or the public relations facade of concern for “the greater good.” In Boise’s West End, a low-income neighborhood sandwiched between an ambitious downtown area and the Boise River, developers are sitting at the same table with residents, who are taking an active role in securing investments into the property.
Major roadways along the Boise River
—image courtesy of Boise Real Estate News
Local business owner Jason Stotts’ investment is quite clever. He has relocated his sports shop (mostly geared towards river rafting and kayaking) from the West End to a remote, out-of-the-way location. Knowing that his new location would soon become lakefront property after the installation of three new parks and a major roadway, Stotts fought off real estate agencies and banks to secure a foothold for West End’s small business community. When the area reaches the potential that developers are aiming to realize, Stotts will recommend to city council and planning partners that a whitewater rafting park be opened in the nearby parks. Who gave Stotts the confidence to purpose his ideas? City council and eventually, the Ada County Highway District (ACHD), who worked together to delay developing West End for three months in order to sit down with 300 concerned citizens.
The fact that city officials and developers have specifically mentioned concerns for building with respect to the recent influx of international citizens is encouraging. City council members Maryanne Jordan and Elaine Clegg are aware of the mosques, synagogues and churches that inhabit the same 10-block area. They use the word “preservation” as if it is circled in red on a dry erase board, with all arrows pointing back to it. Boise State University engages the academic community with presentations from Miguel Haddi, senior planner from HDR Engineering, who uses the West and North End projects as an outlines for discussing better ways to map out a project. People are talking about the character of West End’s small family homes and apartments not just from an ethical podium, but from a true concern for the “look of an earlier-era.”
Is this Europe – the Xanadu of coffee-house college grads and ivy leaguers? No. It’s a state of farmers, hunters, fishers and smart investors and business owners who get it. This is what we’re aiming for.
The result of this open communication: uproar has turned into excitement. West End’s citizens feel empowered to become a part of the neighborhood’s evolution. The fears of bulldozers plowing through the only means of affordable living have subsided and community members are thinking of ways to live among businesses and in self-sufficient neighborhoods – the idea professionals abbreviate as “multi-use.”
How come we have to go to Idaho to hear expressions of concern for “neighborhood diversity and character?” Perhaps one of the reasons could be the fact that people are smarter than we think – when we give them the ability to manage large projects on their own. Let’s give citizens the tools and not just vague terminology and abbreviated ideas.Bois