Councilmember Elaine Clegg on Boise, Idaho's blueprint for success

City Councilmember Elaine Clegg is using her experience with smart growth development to create great neighborhoods in Boise, Idaho.

First elected to the City Council in 2003, Clegg believes Boise’s wealth of natural assets and existing infrastructure can be utilized to attract the kind of young, educated workers many leading companies demand. To accomplish those goals, however, the city must invest in the things that make a difference, creating places where people want to live and where they can walk or bike to shops, restaurants, schools and other amenities.

“A great neighborhood is one that has a center of some kind, that has open space of some kind, and that has good, connected streets,” Clegg says, noting that from an economic and financial side especially, it just makes sense to spend a few extra moments considering how and where you develop communities.

“Paying as you go – it’’s about much more than getting upfront capital costs right,” Clegg adds. “It’s about making sure that what you build over the long-term can be maintained with the money it’s going to generate.”

Emphasizing economic capacity and overall quality of life goals like social interaction, education and physical health while building neighborhoods seems like a no-brainer. Clegg, who also serves as a program coordinator at Idaho Smart Growth, a partner of Smart Growth America, explains that zoning codes and other local regulations can make it difficult to design cities and towns to support these broader goals, and can lead to costly sprawl.

To counter that, Clegg and other Council members have identified more than 30 parts of the current zoning code that they see as outdated and easily fixable during the coming year. In November 2011, the Council adopted Blueprint Boise, a new 300-page comprehensive plan driven by resident preferences. Investing in neighborhood parks and libraries while making it easier to support mixed-use, walkable and transit-oriented development is a core aspect of the Blueprint.

“For me smart growth is more than a couple of words,” Clegg says. “It’s the way great communities get built. For me as I’ve come to understand it – and I think understand it pretty deeply – it’s not a movement. It’s the traditional way human beings built communities so that they could be sustainable and could provide the social and economic interaction that was needed for people to be successful.”

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