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Public Interest

From Interim Dean Andrew Giacomazzi

The past, present and future of cities: Urban Studies at Boise State

Boise is growing up. For better or worse, the home of Boise State University is experiencing both the challenges and opportunities that come with rapid growth. Our Urban Studies and Community Development program trains students to explore the past, present, and future of cities, their politics, economics, environmental and cultural trends. We’re training our Urban Studies students to serve the public interest as problem-solving urban analysts and citizens.

In this issue of Public Interest, we’ll spotlight an outstanding student as well as a highly-respected professor. We’ll show you how our Urban Field School studies Boise’s Industrial past and how our courses teach students to become leaders who know how to plan for our future.

Finally, we’ll share a story about the history of Boise’s Greenbelt from The Blue Review, our recently-relaunched journal of popular scholarship.

Thanks for reading,

Andrew Giacomazzi
Interim Dean, School of Public Service
Boise State University

Watch the Welcome Video

Click the photos to watch the videos

About Urban Studies at Boise State

School of Public Service Interim Dean Andrew Giacomazzi interviews Urban Studies Program Director Amanda Ashley.

Click here to donate to support Urban Studies students

Why Urban

Why choose the Urban Studies program?

Why Boise

Why Boise is a great place for Urban Studies

What Students Learn

What do Urban Studies students learn?

Why the Excitement

Why the excitement around Urban Studies?
Click the photos to watch the videos

Student Spotlight - Nina Shaeffer

Senior Nina Shaeffer talks about her learning experiences in Urban Studies and Community Development.

What We Learn

Learning in Urban Studies is experimental

Hands-on Learning

Learning outside the classroom

Future Plans

What I will do with my degree

What my degree is doing for me

How my degree is preparing me for my future
Everybody lives somewhere. Everybody has to live somewhere

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Krista Paulsen

“I’m very interested in issues surrounding housing and home,” said new Boise State Urban Studies and Community Development professor Dr. Krista Paulsen. “A lot of my work is about the intersection between culture and place.”

This Fall, the School of Public Service welcomed Krista Paulsen to our Urban Studies and Community Development program. Dr. Paulsen is well-respected in her field and is co-author of influential articles Making Character Concrete: Empirical Strategies for Studying Place Distinction (City & Community) and History Repeats Itself, But How?: City Character, Urban Tradition, and the Accomplishment of Place (American Sociological Review). She is also co-author of the books Introduction to Cities: How Place and Space Shape Human Experience and Home: International Perspectives on Culture, Identity and Belonging.

Her interest in housing, home, culture and place will be evident in a course she has designed for Spring 2020. “Housing and Home” will help students think critically around issues of how we provide housing to people, how ideas of home shape housing choices, how housing is connected to family, social class, and economy. The class incorporates a service-learning element.

Paulsen also teaches a graduate level course. “Advanced Qualitative Methods and Analysis” expands students’ research toolkits by teaching them to incorporate visual elements into their research, collect and analyze digital data, and confirm findings using multiple methods.

Urban Studies and Community Development is an important field of study, said Paulsen, for professions besides professional urban analysts. Urban Studies graduates work in fields as diverse as city and county government, non-profits and real estate. And the critical thinking skills they learn help them become better citizens in whatever profession they choose.  “Not everyone winds up working in their major field,” said Paulsen. “But everyone lives somewhere. Everyone has to live somewhere.”

Boise, despite its relatively low population, is a good location for Paulsen’s research. “When people hear about urban sociologists, they think about urban as in big cities and big city types of social problems,” said Paulsen. “But that’s not really the focus of my work.  A lot of my work is on small and mid-size cities and also on neighborhoods and suburbs.”

When asked her thoughts on Boise as her new home, Paulsen noted the “outrageous” natural beauty of the area. “Boise is awesome,” she said.

Poison Oak and Raft Races: A History of the Boise River Greenbelt

By Brandi Burns, Boise City Department of Arts and History

Boise is known as a top city in the nation for recreation opportunities. Anyone with a mind to enjoy the outdoors can do so, whether their activities range from hiking in the foothills, floating the Boise River, visiting one of the city’s many parks, or walking or biking on the Greenbelt. Boise defies the idea that an urban city is separate from the natural environment. What came first? A population that desires to be active or infrastructure that encourages activity? This sounds like a classic chicken or egg situation, but in the case of the Greenbelt, the answer seems to point to the idea that if the infrastructure is in place, people will use it.  But how did we end up with a resource like the Greenbelt? To find that answer, we must examine Boiseans’ changing relationship with the Boise River, the city’s transformation into a modern city, and the vital contributions of civic groups.

Listen to an interview with Brandi Burns on Big Tent Radio

Read the Article in The Blue Review

From Blue-Collar to Green: Grant Will Help Historian Chart Boise’s ‘Deindustrialization’

The city of Boise, notable for its ongoing growth spurt, bills itself as a green and sporty city – a place where one can bike the Greenbelt to work, roam the nearby foothills, even float the Boise River through the heart of downtown. This characterization, one that has landed Boise on a slew of “best of” lists, overlooks the fact that Boise once was a far more industrial place. It was home to steel plants, foundries, slaughterhouses, warehouses and a blue-collar workforce that kept them all running.

Jennifer Stevens, an environmental urban historian and assistant clinical professor in the School of Public Service, is researching this largely forgotten part of Boise’s history. She will explore the “deindustrialization” that transformed Boise into the aspirational green city it is today.

Reed More in Boise State Explore
Exploring environmental sustainability in the Treasure Valley

Investigate Boise

This summer, 25 students participated in an intensive, 1-week field course to explore the role of environmental sustainability in the Treasure Valley. Each day of the course, students learned about a different theme related to sustainability such as energy, urban agriculture, transportation, housing, green building, waste reduction, and open space preservation.  Students investigated these issues through a combination of course readings, dialogue with guest speakers, and field trips to sites around Boise and the Treasure Valley. Through these experiential activities, the students had the unique opportunity to see firsthand how sustainable features are implemented, as well as to dialogue about the successes and challenges that come with this process. Throughout the course, students took photos and kept a daily journal of their experiences. In small teams, students connected their personal reflection with more in-depth research to create comprehensive blogs on a specific theme related to sustainability. Sites were peer-reviewed and included a list of recommendations/proposed solutions for each topic.

Watch a video about a past year's experience
Urban Studies 201 explores planning, policy, and environmental dynamics

Course Spotlight: Planning and the Environment

An urban frontier rises from cheatgrass and sagebrush to test the limits of sustainable growth. Planning and the Environment (Urban Studies 201) explores the planning, policy, and environmental dynamics that sprawl cities into the desert, and profoundly transform the American west.

Taught by Dr. Jillian Moroney and utilizing a strong service-learning component assisting the City of Boise on sustainability issues, Urban 201 helps Boise State students understand how Western cities run the way they do. In addition to learning how to be educated voters and citizens, students learn planning skills that can help them in a wide range of future career fields, including public policy administration and real estate. 

“Students learn the basics of planning, practices, policy and people involved,” said Moroney. “They learn how to read a plan and do comprehensive research about another city.”