2005 is Don Plum's second year as president of the North End Neighborhood Association (NENA). The role adds 10, sometimes 40, extra hours to his week. Going above and beyond his presidential phone-answering duties, Plum acts as liaison between the people and the powers that be and spends time each day working on issues like historic preservation, street safety, fund-raising and building better relationships between residents, businesses and city government in his corner of Boise.
BW: What was your impression of the North End when you moved there 15 years ago?
DP: I grew up in Meridian, and Boise felt like it was 100 miles away. I remember driving down Harrison Blvd a couple times in high school, but other than that, I had no idea what the North End was like. Coming from a part of Meridian that didn't have a tree canopy, I was impressed. This is an old part of town that has developed a lot of irreplaceable character over the last 100 years.
Attending six to 12 meetings per month and getting information out to people is my biggest job. I also keep the board informed on what's going on and give those who are willing some responsibility. I'm the liaison to the City Council and ACHD; I organize monthly meetings, oversee committees, and sometimes I do the thing that everybody hates-public speaking. We have a lot of projects going with neighborhood schools, traffic calming, Hyde Park Street Fair, our newsletter and events in Hyde Park.
Is local government responsive?
It can be a frustrating process, but representing a neighborhood association, they do pay more attention to you. You assume responsibility for a whole neighborhood and play an important role in the way they look at public input. The pace of growth makes it difficult for everyone to keep up.
How did NENA come to be?
It started when some of the neighbors showed concern with foothills developments and traffic impacts. Specific issues brought people together to form an association that local government eventually recognized. The idea has grown to 35 Boise neighborhood associations. We started something called Collaborative Vision, which gets us together with the Downtown Boise Association and other neighborhood associations to work on projects like the Urban Infill Task Force.
Is it all about the neighborhoods, or is there some vision for the city at large?
Sure, absolutely. There are a lot of universal issues that affect many neighborhoods, so we try to share our strengths and experiences with other parts of the city.
What's the best part of the job?
Working with great people, building relationships and a sense of accomplishment.
And the worst part?
The time commitment. But we choose our paths, and I can tell we're making a difference. If it wasn't for my wife Cherie's passion for keeping streets and school environments safe, I probably wouldn't be doing this. It has been an education in politics, community and human nature.