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When you wish upon a Star: Broncos explore urban planning in a growing Idaho city

Idaho’s recent population growth is a challenge for city planners. Leaders in Star, Idaho, a community 17 miles northwest of Boise, are surfing the swell. Students in Boise State’s Urban Studies Field School course shared their ideas about how Star might design the city it wants.

Jillian Moroney, a faculty member teaching urban studies and community development in the School of Public Service, recognized an opportunity when she saw a rendering of Star’s South River Plan — a vision for the development of an area along the Boise River. She reached out to Star’s mayor, Trevor Chadwick, to see how students in her spring 2023 Urban Studies Field School course could get involved.

A space for everyone

Star’s plan for its riverfront is in its early stages. The city’s website notes that any implementation of the plan would take decades. Still, Chadwick is considering the future.

“The area is a blank canvas,” he said, adding that it could become something akin to the famous riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. “You could have canal ways to paddleboard through, walkability, bikeability. You could have businesses and outdoor venues for dining and entertainment.”

Moroney and her students met with Chadwick to better understand Star’s goals and values.

“Talking to the mayor gave us insight as to what they as a community would like to see in that space,” said Arbay Mberwa, an urban studies and community development student from Boise. “They want it to be ADA-inclusive, a type of space that is welcoming to everyone.”

The class toured the area and began to formulate ideas. They also collected insight from one of the most important demographics in any city.

Meeting in the middle (school)

Middle school students are a vibrant, but often overlooked population when it comes to city planning, Moroney said, despite the fact that they have limited agency and limited means of transportation — both factors that make them reliant on good city infrastructure.

The field school students met students at Star Middle School to learn what they valued and how they want their town to grow.

“We were pretty surprised that a lot of the children loved the rural character of Star and they want to preserve that. The building designs they favored were more of a classic look that’s true to Star,” said Isaac Everett, an interdisciplinary studies major from Boise.

From the bright Star to the windy city

One of the hallmarks of Urban Studies Field School is an annual trip to a city beyond the Treasure Valley to broaden student perspectives on urban planning.

“We cover the cost of the trip so everyone can go, no matter their financial situation,” Moroney said, adding that she’s grateful for generous donors who make the field trip possible. The destination of the class in 2023: Chicago.

During their stay, students met with city representatives, managers of the Chicago Riverwalk and a river ecologist to gain perspective on riverfront developments and to identify themes and ideas they could translate to Star.

Urban studies and community development and global studies double- major KaraLeigh Troyer said she enjoyed the opportunity to see Chicago through her peers’ eyes and to “nerd out” over urban development.

When Troyer came to Boise State from her hometown of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, she fell in love with urban studies.

“I didn’t know that this was a field at all until college,” Troyer said. I realized this was stuff I’d been interested in my whole life.”

As Moroney’s students analyzed the city — one known for its art, architecture and vibrant public spaces — she reveled in the interdisciplinary discussions that took place among students.

“What I like about having field school students from different backgrounds is they often bring their disciplinary lenses to look at these problems,” Moroney said. “The field school is an opportunity to get hands-on, real-life experience in practicing skills that they might use later on.”

Back at Boise State

With the data they collected in Star and Chicago, the students created an updated version of Star’s South River Plan.

Their on-site studies of how people use public spaces in Chicago and what makes those spaces come alive — benches, sight lines to the water, integration of commercial spaces, public art and amenities to attract different age groups — informed their design for Star, Moroney said.

“We visited a community-built bike park that the students loved. They incorporated something similar into one of their Star site plans. When visiting Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, they noticed the variety of playscape elements and incorporated a variety into their design for Star along with wayfinding and interpretive signage.”

A proud moment

In April 2023, the students unveiled their vision to Chadwick, Boise State faculty and the public on campus at The Keith and Catherine Stein Luminary.

“We most likely will use their information as part of our South River plan. The class’ deliverables were put together very well, creating easy dialogue between the plan and the citizens of our community,” Chadwick said.

Everett said the feeling of having four month’s work on display “was almost indescribable.”
“I’m just so proud of the work our team did and to have played a part in it. This has been the gem of my undergraduate experience.”