Cultivating a Sense of Place in Our Neighborhoods

Delve into what’s at the heart of thriving neighborhoods in the Treasure Valley.

Author: Sarah Cunningham of Ethos Design+Build | Remodel

What do you love about your neighborhood?

Maybe it is the ability to walk to a nearby coffee shop on Saturday mornings? Is it watching your children play outside with other kids in the neighborhood? Knowing your child can safely bike to school? Or is it the community garden a few blocks away?

For most of us, while we value our private space, we also long to feel a sense of place and community within our neighborhoods. The chance to meet with, connect, and approach others lies at the heart of thriving neighborhoods.  

On the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe you’ve visited a neighborhood where the homes looked more like well-manicured fortresses than places where real people live. Residents drive into their attached garage (usually located front and center on the home), and you don’t see them again until their car pulls out the next morning. Homes with the garage as the focal point is a tragedy to me. While I understand the convenience, this design choice cuts people off from one another and contradicts the reason we have neighborhoods.

We need human interaction. If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that we need IRL, physical, tangible human interaction. We must create and nurture this because it won’t happen by accident.

When you think about the most desirable neighborhoods in the Treasure Valley, it’s often those that have cultivated and nurtured a sense of place. The North End, the Waterfront District in Garden City, the Boise Bench, or the East End. The homes tend to be older, dating from a time before cars dictated design, and there are neighborhood businesses mixed in near homes. There are parks and open space and schools within an easy walk or bike ride. The homes usually have green strips and porches buffering them from the sidewalks and streets. The streets tend to be narrow. Families ride their bikes down the sidewalks. Toddlers are safe playing outside. That sense of place is something you can feel almost as soon as you walk into a neighborhood.  

In historic neighborhoods you’re part of a community that has collectively agreed that the character and architecture of these homes is worth preserving. Preservation guidelines in Boise serve to preserve the sense of place that you can access in these neighborhoods.

You feel like you get to be part of something a little bigger than your individual or family needs.  

We can learn a lot from the ways of the past. Designers and developers should apply modern design principles and new ways of living to further activate the social spaces that exist within a neighborhood, including those of historic value and those infill projects often seen in redevelopment districts. It takes a conscious effort to build structures and support zoning policies that encourage community engagement and create livable neighborhoods where people of many backgrounds can thrive.

At Ethos Design+Build | Remodel, we believe home exists in the larger context of its neighborhood. We build homes that support the kind of neighborhoods that make our communities more liveable. Neighborhoods that beckon you to walk and bike around, to gather with your neighbors around a bonfire or to share gardening tips in the common green spaces. Neighborhoods that are welcoming and approachable — places you want to live for many years to come.