Do You Know Your Neighbor(hood)? 

The 2019 Boise Neighborhood Interactive brought Boiseans—and their problems—together.

Like nearly everyone else who attended the 2019 Boise Neighborhood Interactive, Adelle Stubblefield was worried. For her, the concern was her Liberty Park neighborhood's community garden, currently looked after by an elderly woman who had signed the land over to the City of Boise, which would take control of it when she died. Stubblefield, who lives just a few houses down from the garden, wanted to know if the city was still planning to turn the space into baseball fields.

"The plan, I think, is to make baseball fields and things like that," she said, addressing presenters in the Interactive's "Open Space Matters" workshop. "Or is there another plan?"

Lisa Duplessie, the education manager for Boise Urban Garden School and the Foothills Learning Center, took the question—one of many, many queries she and other panelists fielded over the course of the eight-hour day.

Her answer, "I think there has been ongoing discussion to make that maybe not happen," was met with a small sigh of relief.

click to enlarge ALEX COUEY
  • Alex Couey

Last year's Neighborhood Interactive was held at The Grove Hotel, but this year city organizers moved it to Borah High School, which has a more democratic feel and abundant parking. The event brought Boiseans from all corners together for a full day of workshops, speakers (notably Sun Valley Institute Executive Director Aimee Christensen, who gave the keynote address) and networking, all with the goal of figuring out what's next for the city's various neighborhoods. The workshops included topics like homelessness, accessibility, affordable housing and "placemaking," and often took a wide-angle view, but sometimes the Q&As after each panel got personal.

At "In the Trenches," a conversation about building robust neighborhood associations, a discussion over securing funding for events brought out strong emotions.

"How do we get nonprofit status?" Sharon Nevins, co-chair of the Valley High Estates Neighborhood Association, asked a panel of officers from the Central Bench, Sunset, Collister and East End neighborhood associations. Her NA had yet to earn the designation, which the panel agreed is a key factor in securing corporate donations for events. "I just can't afford to pay for another neighborhood night out of my own pocket, basically," she said, looking dejected.

The panelists offered tips, and suggested applying for Neighborhood Investment Grants through the City of Boise and hosting free or low-cost events like raffles or neighborhood-wide contests in the meantime.

click to enlarge ALEX COUEY
  • Alex Couey

"Just do one thing per year if that's all you can handle, and it snowballs," said Randy Johnson, president of the Central Bench Neighborhood Association.

At another workshop, a gathering called "Better Together" that revolved around the intersection between public interests and private development, Nevins told BW about a different woe: construction on Five Mile Road that had shrunk the size of several lots in her neighborhood, which then filled with trailer homes that she worried altered the neighborhood's character.

"We feel like investors have come in and that has caused a lot of problems," she said.

That panel, which featured Joann Butler, a partner at the law firm Spink-Butler; Old Boise General Manager and prolific developer Clay Carley; Diane Kushlane, co-founder of Kushlan Associates; and Bob Taunton, President of the Taunton Group, had one of the day's most animated Q&As, likely because it showcased a group of people who are difficult to gather in a single room. The discussion jumped from concerns over what one woman saw as the city's plan to phase out mobile home parks to worries over coping with increasing population density, which prompted Gary Richardson of the East End neighborhood to propose moving the Boise Airport to allow for more housing in its surrounding area. NIMBYism—shorthand for the "not in my back yard" attitude—was another hot issue, one that both developers and attendees worried over.

"How do we quell this anger in the neighborhood?" asked Kathy Corless, a South Cole neighborhood resident. Apart from increasing transparency in the development process and making sure there were plenty of opportunities for public input on new projects, no one was sure.

click to enlarge ALEX COUEY
  • Alex Couey

Many of those same issues came up in "Grow Our Housing," a panel on the City of Boise's effort to compensate for overwhelming growth. At that workshop, City of Boise Associate Planner Leon Letson and City of Boise Housing and Community Development Division Senior Manager Anamarie Guiles laid out affordable housing strategies like establishing a housing trust, expanding the housing incentives program and encouraging accessory dwelling units, which maximize land use but often come with backlash, as homeowners worry about careless or unreliable renters on their streets.

"We're only moving as fast as the community wants to have this conversation," Letson reassured the crowd. "We're not trying to shove this down your throats."

While all of the sessions BW attended stayed civil, there was a definite crackle of energy in the air at many of them. That tension was absent at "Open Space Matters," where the gathered citizens, many of whom lived near the foothills, seemed intent on being good stewards of public lands. The workshop was one of the last of the day, and its participants headed to the closing "Call to Action"—a thank-you and raffle drawing led by Boise City Council members Holli Woodings and Lisa Sanchez—in high spirits.

Leaving "Open Space Matters," Stubblefield, who was worried over the fate of her neighborhood's community garden, told BW she'd signed up for the Interactive because she just didn't know her neighbors. At the end of the day, she said, she still hadn't met anyone from her neighborhood, but being surrounded by so many people passionate about Boise had nevertheless lifted her spirits.

"I'm inspired," she said. "It's good to know that other people are thinking about these things."

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