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Students Map Vista Neighborhood, Create ‘Little Libraries’

In Civic and Ethical Foundations, a core course at Boise State, students learn about ethics, diversity and citizenship by participating in projects that take them beyond the classroom and into the world.

“Students use different skills outside the classroom,” sunnamed-11aid professor Caile Spear. “They get a richer experience by doing something hands-on in the community.”

​Spear, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the School of Allied Health Sciences, and her class is featured in this Update article.

Students in Spear’s Spring 2015 University Foundations 200 class found out first-hand what it means to be an active citizen by helping with the city of Boise’s Energize Our Neighborhoods initiative. They created a detailed, interactive “before” map of the Vista Avenue neighborhood that was presented to the initiative’s strategic leadership team in August. The map provides a yardstick for measuring changes in the community’s livability.

To create the map, the students put in about 1,200 combined hours walking more than 40 neighborhood streets, mapping sidewalks, bike paths, lighting and other physical aspects of the neighborhood.

The students also identified opportunities to improve safety and livability, such as removing low hanging branches that might pose a future hazard to street traffic, placing signs that might improve traffic flow, and noting which vacant spaces have the potential to become community green space or pocket parks.

“The students were an incredible benefit,” said Rhiannon Avery, grant and programs manager for Boise’s Division of Housing and Community Development. “Their presentation was really creative and they gave thoughtful suggestions that kept resources in mind.”

After mapping the Vista neighborhood, the students wanted to make an additional, tangible contribution to the community, so they constructed “little free libraries.” Little free libraries are tiny book exchanges where community members can stop to take or give a book. The “libraries” promote reading, inspire people to take a walk in their community and connect neighbors through book sharing. Materials for the libraries were donated by a local Home Depot and the Boise Weekly.