Urban Studies Students Help Tell the Story of Downtown Boise

Students stand in a line smiling with their professor
From left: Saki Yamada, Jenna Shaw, Adrienne Weatherly, Prof. Jillian Moroney, Christina Schaeffer, Savannah Willits and Andrew Dave

Boise’s rapid growth has garnered national attention, with the City of Trees appearing on numerous “Best Of” lists, and this has made the city an ideal study subject – and client – for Boise State’s first graduating class of urban studies and community development students.

For their senior capstone project, led by Clinical Assistant Professor Jillian Moroney with the School of Public Service, six urban studies and community development students partnered with the Downtown Boise Association to create a web-based report emphasizing the city’s strengths for prospective out-of-state businesses and residents looking to relocate, as well as Boise natives and businesses looking to better understand city trends and opportunities.

“Boise is a fantastic living laboratory,” said Moroney. “This project was a great opportunity for students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to a project for a real client.”

The work they’ve produced is exactly what prospective employers are looking for.” – Clinical Assistant Professor Jillian Moroney

Students also created infographics illustrating housing trends, quality of life factors and the vital role of Boise State in the community. In addition, they produced a printed fact sheet for prospective downtown businesses.

The website is populated with interesting facts – some provided by the Downtown Boise Association, others culled from student interviews and research.

“This was an intimidating process at first,” said graduating senior Adrienne Weatherly, who volunteered as the architect of the website, a job that entailed first learning how to use new software. Weatherly joined the urban studies and community development program because “with so much change happening in the Treasure Valley with the exponential growth we are experiencing, I want to be a part of helping to shape our urban landscape and provide input on what I believe to be an attempt to shape a more equitable, inclusive and comprehensive city in which people can be proud to call their home,” she said.

The feedback they provided the association was optimistic. The students found that downtown Boise is walker friendly, biker friendly, well connected and vibrant.

“The more people can get out of their cars, walk around and have eyes on the street, the better businesses do,” Moroney explained. “There are also open spaces to hang out in. Most apartments downtown are within 800 feet of green space.”

Also worth noting: more than 53 percent of downtown residents are between 18-34 years old, and the area currently is experiencing the biggest building boom in Idaho’s history, with more than 300 new housing units under construction.

“[The project] was a cool way for them to apply their skills and it’s a tool that the Downtown Boise Association is going to be utilizing; it’s not a report that will sit unused on a shelf,” Moroney added. “The stakes were high, they had to deliver something that looked good and was professional, and they did.”

Lynn Hightower, executive director of the Downtown Boise Association, said that product delivered by the students “absolutely exceeded expectations,” and that student research has been incorporated into an ongoing national study on the value of U.S. downtowns by the International Downtown Association.

The Urban Studies students were recognized for their work at the 32nd annual State of Downtown Boise annual meeting on April 17.

“Learning about urban issues affects us all, and as I get older I realize how many urban issues are important to me,” Weatherly said.

After graduating, she hopes to work in city government and learn more about planning or participating in civic engagement. “Learning more about how to create and plan a great city, in whatever form that may come in for my future, is what I am interested in.”