Between finals, leaving college for the Summer, and working on a new potential release I haven’t had much time to write on here. In order to fill in the passing time with something that people could read I have had the great (read: horrible) idea of pulling out old essays and posting them here. So, for the unknown interim until I can write more spur-of-the-moment ramblings I will be putting up words I put down to fulfill academic requirements. I’m sorry.
Here you go:
In 2012, the Boise skyline saw a new addition – a four-story cylinder of concrete, matched with a massive, wiry crane. This was the base for the up-and-coming JUMP – or Jack’s Urban Meeting Place – being constructed by the J.R. Simplot Foundation. JUMP (originally supposed to be finished in 2015, but currently still under construction) has become a landmark of Boise, a testament to one of the city’s most prominent companies, and the man founded it, as well as a symbol of the Boise community. However, the JUMP has also remained an enigma. It is a mix of a community center, a studio, a mall, and office space, and it remains to be seen how well one institution can balance all these factors together. A shadow of doubt hangs over the JUMP, a shadow of corporate control masquerading as a public contribution to the creative city of Boise.
Boise has marketed itself as a creative city for some time; its downtown is full of local, hip businesses – independent bookstores, organic restaurants, fair-trade clothing – and its art scene encompasses theater, film, music, and visual art. The creation of the JUMP seems like a natural step in furthering Boise’s Creative Class. In his Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida divides the Creative Class into two groups: 1) the Creative Core which “include[s] people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music, and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology, and new creative content…” 2) The Creative Professionals in “business and finance, law, health care, and related fields. These people engage in complex problem solving that involves a great deal of independent judgment and requires high levels of education…” (8). The JUMP, with its “two large ballrooms… as well as five different studios… the Play Studio, which will include stat-of-the-art recording equipment, as well as cameras and editing labs. The Movement Studio… a place for dance and yoga classes. The Maker’s Studio will provide woodworking, soldering and welding equipment as well as the latest 3-D printers. The Inspiration Studio will act as a conference room-like think-tank, and the Share Studio… for culinary classes and competitions” (Murri), seems like the ideal space to cultivate and harvest creative potential, but perhaps the space is a bit too utopic in its grand vision. While the JUMP’s offering of classes, workshops, and engaging spaces provides an opportunity for individuals to learn and grow their skills, one must question the administrative and technical costs of maintaining such a space – and let’s not forget that “the studios will all include fees for public use” (Murri). The question is: will the JUMP allow individuals to interact with their community? Or will the JUMP allow Simplot to interact with individuals? While the JUMP is a non-profit establishment, we must remember that, in the age of information, nothing is free.
When the public uses the JUMP, they are giving Simplot a very clear view of their lives, their work, and their creative potential. This is not corporate conspiracy, this is simply a matter of business – just as corporations have used search engines to collect information about potential customers, so too can companies utilize campuses like JUMP to gather data. JUMP offers the ability for Simplot to judge the pulse of Boise, gauge the interests of the community, and even locate potential employees. Kathy O’Neill, community engagement director for JUMP, said that “even after we open the doors, it will continue to evolve and change based on community needs” (Murri); this is not just philanthropy, this is a necessity – the JUMP needs people to survive. It’s not a mistake that Simplot’s new headquarters – a massive nine-story building (JUMP is five stories) – is being built on the same campus as the community center. The company is not only looking to “consolidate operations now scattered around the Treasure Valley under a single roof” (Kyle) – they’re consolidating a market on one campus as well.
This is not to say that the JUMP campus will be an entirely malevolent force – it offers much to the community, and the new Simplot Headquarters will certainly effect Boise’s Downtown business sector – but the image of the JUMP and its proposed goals are problematic: many cities have implemented community centers, renovations, and artistic installations to cultivate Florida’s Creative Class, often with mixed results. While Boise is far from a dying city – it lacks the industrial decay of Detroit or Elmira – but the numerous failures of such cities has lead to Florida spreading a different message than the “Three T’s” of “technology, talent, and tolerance.” In an interview with Prospect Florida said, “’I’m not saying abandon these places… I’m saying, number one, invest in their assets, number two, invest in their connective fiber’ to other cities”(Macgillis). The technology and talent fostered by the JUMP, although useful, is really the most superficial manifestation of a Creative Class in Boise. The JUMP’s construction as a “connection between the greenbelt and downtown,” the inclusion of new employee housing, and Simplot’s international business holdings will have a greater impact on the economy, and class structure, of the Treasure Valley. In the words of Pat Rice, executive Director of the Greater Boise Auditorium District, “JUMP will add tremendous opportunity for added experience in the marketplace, but the headquarters will add a stronger economic impact to Downtown” (Kyle).
But not all of Boise’s residents are excited about the construction of the JUMP, and many more are simply confused about its purpose. In Jessica Murri’s article JUMP, Explained (Somewhat) (even the news has to add qualifiers to explain their lack of knowledge), one Boise resident’s reaction to the construction of JUMP is recorded: “I thought, ‘what the heck is going on?’… Now, seven years later, I still don’t fully understand.” At the bottom of the article, faceless and under the anonymous moniker of “Just the facts, m’am”, a commenter writes: “I wish Mr. Simplot had bestowed upon Boise something more vital and lasting than an oddly designed building where cooking classes and fingerpainting are taught. His millions might have helped endow a proper transit system for this community… he might have helped connect Boise to the West Coat by high speed rail line or underwritten much-needed historic preservation. Instead, we got a modernist structure and a tractor museum where – years after ground was first broken – no one can still seem to figure out what it really is.” The comment is split between 21 “likes” and 23 “dislikes”, but there are no comments in response.
The flexibility of the JUMP, with its “kaleidoscope of changing activities and events” (Murri) has backfired and made the space vague and dense. For many in Boise the JUMP has turned into a joke. The Boise-located comedy duo the Fool Squad even performed a sketch where a Simplot promoter enthusiastically praised the JUMP, but, when questioned about its purpose, would sheepishly respond with statements like: “it’s, uh, a place to meet urbanely…” The long construction time has only compounded this ennui – after four years, a construction site loses some of its glamour. Other design choices are outright strange, such as the inclusion of J.R. Simplot’s personal tractor collection around the campus and inside the structure itself: “Simplot, himself revered his personal tractor collection… Simplot had stated that he wanted to put his collection on display. Following his wish, JUMP will have several of his tractors on display throughout the property” (BAP) The inclusion of this display, intended as a loving gesture for the father of the JUMP, gives the JUMP the odd feeling of some sort of symbolic temple: a modern pyramid erected to the greatness of one man, strewn with his prized possessions.
To some, the mere involvement of the Simplot Company may be enough to raise skepticism. While Simplot is well-known for its philanthropy in the Treasure Valley – “supporting community needs, education, youth, and the arts through direct contributions, scholarships, and personal involvement” (Boss) the company has also been subject to numerous controversies regarding its environmental practices and its treatment of laborers. “His support in the 1970s for building coal-fired power plants along the Snake River and generating hydropower by putting the North Fork of the Peter River in a n underground tube was anathema to environmentalists.”(Woodward) In the words of Pat Ford, once director of the Idaho Conservation League, “He and his company have not been environmental stewards for Idaho’s lands and waters… they were consistent opponents of efforts to strengthen Idaho’s air quality and land-use laws. And more often than not, they won.” (Woodward) This paradox of identity lies at the heart of the JUMP: is this a space that will continue to bring the community together for the sake of “uniting the people and facilitating direct contacts and exchange of ideas that will stimulate free discussion?” (Sert, 6) Or is it a monument to “Special interest groups [that] now replace the larger community within our political landscape?” (Katz, xii) After all, it takes more than just art programs to nurture a Creative Class. As Florida reports: “members of this class strongly favor organizations and environments in which they feel that anyone can fit in and get ahead… what they’re seeking is an environment that is open to differences – of gender, sexual preference, race, or even personal idiosyncrasies.” (57-58) Creative individuals are seeking locations where new, diverse ideas can be appreciated – ideas that may sometimes fly in the face of traditional economic reasoning. If the JUMP wants to attract a creative class, then its going to have to appeal to a wide base of people – which may not be easy given that Idaho was listed as the 8th most conservative state in 2015 (Newport) and the 2nd most conservative in 2011. (Prentice) When a resource like JUMP is so close tied to the actions of a private company, that company has to make sure that their actions will align with the values of the creative community they seek to attract – whether or not those actions effect the JUMP directly.
Boise is already a primarily white community – 89% white according to the 2010 census – but the Treasure Valley has steep economic divides. With Boise becoming a more affordable location for artists and creative individuals, issues of gentrification are becoming more apparent in its surrounding neighborhoods: “Garden City has long been known for mobile home parks and poverty. But with more than three miles of underused riverfront property, developers have becomes interested in Garden City’s poorest area. High-end houses are now being built next to mobile homes… the entire Treasure Valley could be facing a low income housing shortage… people in Boise and Meridian and Eagle don’t realize how much the local economy depends on the labor of low-income Garden City residents… it could create disruptions everyone would feel.” (Cotterell) The JUMP is being built in the midst of this gentrification, as an institution it is questionable whether it will be a useful educational resource to individuals from lower classes, or if it will only appeal to the middle class that is moving in to the area. While Simplot does support Idaho’s economy through its business, most of the jobs in the new headquarters will be white-collar office jobs – Simplot’s nearest factory is in Caldwell, Idaho and its farming operations are located in Grand View. In the face of gentrification and a new influx of Boise’s middle-class JUMP must “support a regional economy that benefits people of all incomes” (CNU), but if Simplot doesn’t make a greater effort to help the Treasure Valley maintain affordable housing and create programs through JUMP to appeal to lower-income families, then the JUMP may break up some of the older Boise community it claims to be supporting.
So will the JUMP work to help Boise’s Creative Community? Or will it only remain as an architectural curiosity, a testament to a bureaucratic misstep in trying to control creativity? It is difficult to say, but while the JUMP is too far into its construction to be repurposed, there are still paths the JUMP can take to ensure it continues to support the community effectively. First, Simplot can take steps to ensure that the JUMP campus is functionally useful to the whole downtown community – its connection to the greenbelt being a prime example of such utility. The Boise homeless community – recently evicted from encampments under the Boise underpass and Cooper Court – will present a potential problem, and opportunity, for the JUMP, whose outdoor, park-like campus will be a possible for the homeless to congregate. If the JUMP uses its community programs, and implements ethical design into its structure, it has a great opportunity to help support an oft-overlooked part of Boise. The JUMP can also utilize its art programs to recognize parts of the Treasure Valley community like people of color, the Latin community, and the Native American communities that live on and off the reservations in Idaho. The JUMP could also tie its classes into job fairs and networking workshops to help individuals learn more about developing their skills and getting involved with the creative workforce.
No building can cure a community of all its problems, not even one as well funded and advertised as the JUMP. The JUMP is a vague space, but where there’s uncertainty there’s also potential. A building, a community space, in the heart of Boise’s downtown, a space with the resources of Idaho’s most profitable company, is a resource with great possibilities, but it is also a space that will require a lot of work. In order for the JUMP to be a real creative hub for the Boise community – the whole Boise community – it needs to be proactive in reaching out to its inhabitants. We need to remember, “At the end of the day, people – not industries or even places – should be our biggest concern.” (Macgillis) If the JUMP cannot benefit the community of Boise through its “creative” enterprises, then – no matter its economic success – it must reconsider its goals and methods, less it become nothing more than a pretty façade for a corporate office building.
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