National Street Service: Shareback

So I’m new-ish to Boise. When we moved to town, my husband and I had hoped to find a home in one of the walkable neighborhoods. We joked about the triangle of priorities: price – location – quality, and how inevitably when you choose a place to live, you sacrifice one. Well, we ended up “bending” a little on location, and landed a bit further west than we had planned. So I live in a place like you see in the top left of the picture below. Winding “branch” streets with dead-end cul-de-sacs disconnected from arterial commercial strips.Suburbs vs Smart Code

But the Collister Neighborhood has some pretty fantastic charm as well…Our “branch” street is tree-lined with separated sidewalks and no breaks for driveways. We live within one mile of a local library branch. There’s also a post office, an awesome dive karaoke bar, and, most recently, a pretty sweet local coffee shop. Collister is also served by two bus lines, has two local elementary schools, and two parks. All of this within one mile of my front door. But, like any typical American suburb, the majority of my neighbors and I are disconnected from these resources…by design. The same design that was meant to cut down on cut throughs has made our homes disconnected from our surroundings.

It is this disconnect that brought me to the National Street service. I wanted to find what role street design played in creating this disconnect. How can we have so much “right” in our neighborhood but still feel so disconnected? Are there changes we can make to the streets or other public land that would bring this together?

Pop up story parkSo, I set out as a newly minted Street Ranger. The above picture was taken by my 6 year old daughter. Me and my kiddos set out one sunny Saturday and set up a “pop up story park” with the goal of: meeting neighbors, waving at cars driving by, and asking questions and listening.

One of the best things that came out of those interviews was the discovery of several micro-routes throughout my neighborhood. There’s a particular stretch of Collister that I had traveled many times with my kiddos. It is the one way to the library or the park and it’s not a very nice route. Lots of cars, limited sidewalks, and cars parked in the shoulders forcing you out into traffic. But this neighbor told me about a cut-through path that I didn’t even know existed. I’d travelled that stressful busy arterial road so many times with my kids, and never knew there was another way. It was an awesome discovery!

So I took that discovery and shared it on a big map along Collister, pictured below. 

Micro-Route Map

This got me thinking about our neighborhood connectivity, and how we could better meet the needs of people choosing to travel by other modes. I don’t think the solution to suburban connectivity is more streets, but it does have me curious if a network of micro-routes (for bikes and pedestrians) could create that connection.

Now that the main program of National Street Service has ended, I wanted to share some of my main takeaways:

1) The Value of Permission

I definitely feel like I started from a place of fear, and I feel like I was emboldened when I was given permission. Something about the title “street ranger” gave me permission. I felt free to open up conversations with my neighbors, to ask questions, to try things, but most importantly, permission to be IN the street. To take ownership of the street.

2) Incrementalism is Okay

The second takeaway was something that came late in the game, after the big finale. I’m not going to lie, at that first meeting when I found out we had a $25,000 budget. I had pie in the sky ideas of what we could accomplish with that budget so when we decided on the final project at first I was disappointed with the scale. But, do you know the phrase, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Well, I think in Idaho streets and auto dependence are sort of like an elephant, and questioning the role of our streets is something that should be done one bite at a time. First by starting the dialogue, then by allowing people to experience streets in a new way, and I think that’s what we did.

3) Connections are Key

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to make connections with these volunteers and connect with leaders in our community who care about these topics. To know that there are this many other people in Boise interested in creating a new path forward makes me hopeful.I really hope that we can continue to stay connected and throw our NSS BAT SIGNAL all around Boise to continue to effect change one bite at a time.