Not many people get into urban planning from going on tour with rock bands, but then most people aren’t Amanda Ashley, 39. It was when she toured with bands such as String Cheese Incident and Steve Winwood working in artist development that the small-town Minnesota girl started getting interested in cities.
“I wanted to know, why is Austin different from Denver? Seattle from Portland? New York and Baltimore?” Ashley says. “I became more interested in infrastructure and cities.”
After getting her education in places like Chicago and Philadelphia, Boise turned out to be an education in itself, even though it, too, was a city. “I had never heard of water rights before,” Ashley says. “Here, that’s front and center.”
Ashley was brought out here to be part of the Community and Regional Planning program at Boise State. When that was shut down, she was tasked with developing an undergraduate urban studies program. “I’ve built a number of partnerships that really touch on the way we should be studying cities – not on departmental siloes,” she says. The interdisciplinary program includes political science, criminal justice, public policy, history, sociology, and public health.
For example, in the fall Ashley is co-teaching a course called Cities of Tomorrow for 200 freshmen. “We’re trying to help them understand how cities work and function and how they’re important,” she explains. The course will include such varied components as design, science fiction, and social equity.
In addition to teaching, Ashley researches areas such as the role of universities, artist workforce development as an economic development driver, and redevelopment of former military bases. This summer, she’ll be traveling to Europe to look at military bases there. “They’re super weird and super wonderful,” she says. “They’re isolated, fenced off, and yet centrally located, on water.” They often have environmental challenges such as brownfield contamination, as well as emotional challenges associated with their previous use. “How do you integrate them back into the community? People have memories. How do you negotiate how to respect and honor those memories?”
Ashley is also involved in a number of professional organizations such as the Urban Land Institute, Americans for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition, she sits on the NEW Leadership Idaho Advisory Board, a national nonpartisan program to educate college women about politics and leadership and to encourage them to run for office.
During her time at Boise State, Ashley met and married her husband, a journalism professor. They have since had a baby boy, who just turned 1, so they’re exploring the parts of Boise that are good for young kids such as the park system. Living in Idaho has taught the city girl something else as well, and she has now backpacked through Glacier and run Robie Creek. “I had never gone camping or done anything outdoorsy,” she says.
Most memorable airplane trip: “When my husband and I flew to Copenhagen to celebrate our honeymoon with a cruise around Norway. I’d always wanted to see the fjords, I like the way their society is built, and I was excited over this new chapter in my life.”