How to have fun as a planner

I was lucky enough to serve up a heapin’ helpin’ of sarcasm this last April Fool’s Day.

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The neighborhood converted into a multistory shopping arcade.

When my local weekly paper, the Boise Weekly, contacted me in March about a proposed article that would run on April 1st. I was happy to lend a hand. The article, titled “The Changing Face of Hyde Park: An iconic Boise neighborhood morphs into a shopping complex” would report on recent development efforts to change a beloved local historic district – loved by cyclists, neighbors, and preservationists.

The writer would publish under the pseudonym Roberta T. Axidea Ph.D, and I would provide the illustrative sketches to lend an air of authenticity to the story. My colorized contributions would be listed as coming from the Palo Alto-based architectural firm of Birdwel/Caar Meta-designs. This fake firm that was to coin the development’s name, “Hyde Park Commons: where neighbors come to see neighbors” – as original as any of the names created by this random real estate subdivision name generator. For those old-schoolers so inclined, one can simply insert the name of the thing the development will obliterate and add a glowing adjective: Happy Glen, Green Meadows, Sunshine Creek, etc., etc., etc.

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The proposed development (in the background) connected to the local park and hiking trail by a new urban gondola.

The fake project showed how the ersatz developer was buying up properties with an eye towards converting the district into a shiny new, suburban-like lifestyle center – replete with vaguely familiar sounding “local” retail outlets and historic pastiches.

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A local shop co-opted to sell curios to hipsters and wannabes to promote their uniqueness.

What neither the author nor I expected was the hue and cry from locals. When the story was published it generated a considerable number of calls into the community’s development services department from citizens voicing their opposition to the project.

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A beloved cafe and brewpub re-branded as an outlet to sell sunglasses.

Neighbors promised to launch a petition and conservationist rallied to protest the developer’s business. Even a professor teaching in the local university’s planning department expressed outrage over the “author’s” supposed bona fides. Soon, the story was picked up by other news agencies, and the Twittersphere erupted with comments.

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A local cobbler, a business dating back to 1863, re-envisioned as a tennis shoe shop.

Only a few realized the connection between the publication date and the story.

The following week, the paper’s editor felt compelled to issue a statement that the whole story was a hoax. Well, it was fun while it lasted 😉

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