Student Work Makes Positive Impact on Rural Regional Development

Friday, April 16 2010

Last spring, master’s students Wim Braak, Nick Brown and Ryan Urie in the Bioregional Planning and Community Design Program studio class worked with the Valley County Commission and Valley Adams Planning Partnership to develop a regional asset inventory and interactive mapping tool. As part of a larger class and university-wide engagement with the City of Cascade, this project is now being locally implemented.

As one of two studio class projects, the student team designed and solicited community input to identify local historic, ecological, economic, social and other assets, which were then mapped in a GIS-database. This data was then loaded into an interactive web-mapping application where the public could not only learn about local assets, but also submit additions and amendments. The goals of the project were to inform local and outside residents about the Long Valley area surrounding Cascade and encourage regional protection and development of heritage resources. Local partners included University Extension faculty, the Cascade Horizons committees, the local historic society, the regional economic development specialist and many residents who participated in interviews.

Numerous parties in the community were avid supporters of the project; however, at the end of the semester students had difficulty finding a host with the technical and staff capacities to host the interactive map.

To more efficiently host the interactive map, Valley County authorized its transfer to the Payette River National Scenic Byway Council. The Byway agreed to allocate funding for a new Web site that includes the interactive web-based map developed by the students. The map will be monitored and updated to serve as a powerful communication tool for the area’spublic.

“I think our experience of working with a community — four hours away, unable to contact people directly, and using technology we’re barely familiar with — was probably a lot more educational in terms of the ambiguous reality of working in the political arena,” said Ryan Urie.“It was one long exercise in ambiguous expectations, changing plans and vague goals. In short, it was a lot like real life.”

A beta version of the asset map can be viewed through the University of Idaho’s Bioregional Planning and Community Design Web site at Other graduate and undergraduate student projects also are being implemented. For additional information on the connection between University Extension and the Building Sustainable Communities Program, contact Stephen Drown at

University faculty collaborators included Sandra Pinel, assistant professor of conservation social sciences and bioregional planning and community design; Gary Austin, associate professor of landscape architecture; Barb Brody Bromley, extension faculty; and other faculty in the Building Sustainable Communities Initiative. Local partners included Frank Eld, Valley County commissioner and John Blaye, Valley County economic development specialist. Student contributors included Carmen Weber, Jase Brooks and Ellis Cucksey.