Vision for the Valley: We're all in this together (With video)

OUR VIEW VISION FOR THE VALLEY We have stepped up as a community to get things done. We must build on this.

December 7, 2008 

The Treasure Valley is the kind of community that steps up to a challenge.

This is a generous community that always remembers its nonprofits, even in tough times that make giving painful. This is a creative community that has built an arts scene vibrant enough to entertain locals and surprise visitors. This is a forward-thinking community with voters willing to say yes to a new community college and open space preservation in the Foothills.

Our political debates often divide us. Yet we repeatedly come together to get things done. The notion of a shared vision for the future isn't at all far-fetched. If you need proof of what we can do, take a good look at what we have done.

The Statesman's Vision for the Valley project aspires to tap into that spirit, to build upon that record. We are urging local leaders to make tough but wise decisions during this recession, to ensure that the Valley will thrive when the national economy rebounds.

A true and truly effective Vision for the Valley also requires us all to think and act more as a cohesive community, even if local leaders have to give up a little control to advance a more urgent agenda.

In our third Vision for the Valley summit Wednesday, our editorial board met with a surprisingly upbeat group of 13 local leaders who drew their hope from their neighbors and their constituents. Moving forward, the Valley's most valuable asset may be its human resource.

Don Kemper, chief executive officer of Healthwise, set the tone by advocating the idea of population happiness. Like many ideas, this one is borrowed: Kemper takes his cue from Bhutan, a nation wedged against the Himalayan mountains, whose king has crafted a list of measures of gross national happiness.

Taking ideas from a kingdom of 700,000, and applying them to a Valley of 500,000, isn't that much of a stretch. The basic tenets are universal: meaningful work at a living wage; a healthy environment; a culture of respect and friendliness; and a transparent government of the people. The underlying goal - fostering a sense of belonging, learning and contributing - is essential to community health.

A little nurturing can go a long way to sustain the Valley's caring and committed side - which is evident in so many ways.

"People step up in time of need," said Nampa Mayor Tom Dale. Or, as Shirl Boyce put it succinctly a few minutes later, "People give a damn."

Boyce should know. The longtime Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce official now works for the fledgling College of Western Idaho. CWI is in the works only because Treasure Valley voters had the wisdom to commit to the property tax increase required to create and sustain a much-needed two-year college.

In many ways, a spirit of community already strengthens our Valley. In other ways, this sense of community is at risk.

Retiring Boise schools superintendent Stan Olson has seen both sides of the equation. Under Olson's leadership, voters in 2006 approved a bond issue to replace aging schools, a bold $94 million statement of electoral purpose. But when about 50 percent of his district's students come from low-income households, it is essential to build a sense of shared hopefulness - stretching beyond upper middle class neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, local politics too often accentuate clashes of personality and ideology. Some tension is inevitable and even healthy, as individual cities maintain the unique identities that make the Valley a richer place. So the challenge is in knowing when to collaborate. The challenge is in picking the issues - from creating jobs to protecting air quality to building first-class schools - that we must solve together. The issues we cannot afford to get wrong.

This certainly won't be easy. But here's the good news: We've done it before.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board.

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