What is true about the Treasure Valley? And truly important about the Valley? And unique?
In order to craft a Vision for the Valley, let's focus on those three questions.
The Statesman launched the Vision for the Valley project in August - in an effort to encourage local leaders to make decisions now, during an economic downturn, that will position the Valley for long-term prosperity. On Wednesday, the Statesman held the first of a series of summit meetings with community leaders.
One was Rich Raimondi, a Hewlett-Packard vice president and a 29-year Valley resident. He helped guide the discussion by defining what a vision ought to be: a reflection of what is true, important and differentiating.
Let's work off his checklist:
What is true? We can probably agree on a few basic truths. The Valley is a community we love because of its friendliness, and because of the genuine nature of its people. It's also true, as one of our brainstorming groups concluded, that the Valley is still close-knit enough to allow regular people to get involved and make a difference.
Other truths are trickier, and subject to change. We have long considered cheap, abundant electricity as a given and a truth - but late last year, two manufacturing firms ruled out relocating in Boise due to a shortage of power. We have trumpeted the Valley's clean air - yet ozone emissions now exceed federal standards, which could bring tougher pollution-control regulations to the Valley. We like to talk about the relative ease of getting from Point A to Point B, but rush-hour travelers on Eagle Road may offer a different perspective. And while we are proud of our K-12 and higher-education offerings, several summit participants pointed up the need for pre-kindergarten programs.
What is important? There isn't much trick to clicking off some obvious choices.
A transportation system that serves commuters and commerce efficiently, preserving our air quality in the process. An education system that fosters lifelong learning, by giving our young children an early start on life and allowing us, as adults, to change careers and challenge our minds. A health care system that is accessible, affordable and robust enough to meet the demands of ever-changing demographics.
And those are just a few starting points. So what isn't important? Maybe that's the question.
Raimondi saves the toughest question for last. "What is unique and different about this place that would stand out from 10 other places, whether it be Austin or Tucson or Portland or Salem or Eugene?"
Or to put it another way, what is the trademark that sets the Valley apart from so many other communities that can promise nice neighbors, nice schools and modern hospitals?
Can the answer be found in the open space that surrounds much of the Valley, from the Foothills to its greenbelts to its open space? Or in an arts and entertainment community that has thrived in spite of - or perhaps because of - the Valley's relative isolation from larger cities?
These attributes certainly define the Valley, and make it a place where it's easy to fill a weekend with activities. But let's not forget the bottom-line considerations that also determine where businesses choose to expand and where people choose to live. When times are tight, won't concerns about a qualified work force and an affordable cost of living take precedence? Does business trump pleasure?
We don't have a quick answer - but we didn't start this project with any expectations that answers would come easy. Finding a vision requires us to start by facing the tough questions.
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