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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 😉


Sustainable Public Education in Idaho

Idaho is a place with a highly educated population; which is recognized as the key to economic development and long-term employment stability. Idaho Sustainability Vision Statement

Idaho School DistrictsThe following link is to a paper providing an overview of the conditions facing public education in Idaho. It provides a snapshot into current conditions, makes specific recommendations for improvement, and ties the subject into the broader subject of sustainability within the state.

Though the general presumption concerning educational excellence revolves around the funding issues facing primary, secondary and higher education institutions within the state (and those expenditures that have a direct impact on those constraints, primarily teacher/student ratios); when the subject is viewed through the lens of sustainability the matter becomes more deeply integrated into the financial and employment concerns facing each community within Idaho. This paper will attempt to draw a correlation between each community’s educational resources, and its ability to foster an environment for long-term economic and employment stability.

The paper lays out the argument for a reduction in school campus size, and campus placement criteria, that would more fully integrate primary schools into each neighborhood.

Sustainable Size

Hailey: A Town Square for Every Season

As the small mountain resort community of Hailey, Idaho has grown, the lack of a centrally located place for residents to gather and celebrate has become a stumbling block for community participation.

Hailey Quote

This research project was undertaken to in a effort to plumb the depths of public sentiment regarding a new Town Square, and to assemble a set of programmatic design criteria for such an urban open space. These criteria fell into three distinct categories of attributes; Adjacencies, Activities, and Amenities. Additionally, the research lead to a prioritization of a list of potential sites in the downtown area that could support a new Town Square.

Unlike the conventional urban design approach of deliberating upon the appropriate Form and Function of a public open space, the author included the range of acceptable “adjacencies” for such a space. This permitted the community members to express their preferences for types of land uses and spaces that should be located next to their unique town square.

Here’s a link to the Executive Report for the project (on the author’s Academia page):

The research effort involved authoring and conducting a modified charrette effort that engaged key community stakeholders in the creation of a set of three-dimensional maquettes; which modeled their preferences for the three categories of attributes. This detailed information was then used to constructed a public survey for the community (a population that included all residents, business owners, and employees). These preferences were then used to develop a set of architectural programmatic criteria for a new Town Square – with these criteria then being used to prioritize a set of potential sites for this public open space.

This report was presented back to the mayor and city council on June 1, 2015.

River by Design – Essays on the Boise River

I was fortunate enough to contribute a chapter to a new book that will be published in June 2015.

River by Design

For those interested in reading the book (published under Creative Commons, by Boise State University), here’s the link to the Dropbox folder:

My chapter (also in the folder) is titled, Daylighting Caldwell. It’s an example of solid local leadership implementing urban renewal, but with a great range of public participation. The community was able to counter FEMA’s flood hazard determination and successfully create a new urban riverwalk, through the daylighting of a long-forgotten creek.

Boise River Greenbelt: Polishing a Community Gem

A River Runs Through It

A River Runs Through It






The image above, and the link below, are for an analysis of the the Boise River Greenbelt, research for which was conducted in the fall of 2013.

The report was written as part of a celebration of the anniversary of the Boise River Greenbelt and provides both qualitative and quantitative assessments — and specific recommendations for further improvements and refinements to this unique linear parkway. The report was published in the BSU publication Urban Research: Occasional Papers of the College of Social Science & Public Affairs at Boise State University.


Neighborhoods: Windows into Boise


Neighborhoods: Windows into Boise

The image above, and the link below, is for a report written in the Spring of 2014 that delves into the complex issue of neighborhood significance. Specifically, the report focuses on the unique qualities that impart character, livability, and resiliency.

The report was a companion to a month-long exhibition held at the City of Boise’s SesquiShop (a public art gallery operated by the Department of Art & History).