Amanda Ashley once managed rock stars, now she helps plan cities. Ashley is an assistant professor and director of the university’s new undergraduate urban studies and community development program, housed in the School of Public Service.
While her students may privately wonder what type of head injury prompted Ashley to give up the glamorous nightlife of touring with international bands for a day job mapping out roadways and sewer systems, her reasoning was as straightforward and undramatic as the woman herself.
“I loved working with artists but what I really loved what trying to understand and tap into the distinct music scene in each city we visited,” Ashley said. “Why was Boston so different from Atlanta, or Portland from Seattle? I began to realize that the key was place-making and culture.”
In other words, it takes more than just musicians and artists to put a place on the map – it takes savvy city planners, public/private investment, and everyday citizens, too. Ashley left the music business to pursue a master’s in urban and regional planning from the policy-focused Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and then a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design before moving to Boise. She feels the university’s new urban studies and community development program offers students a vital gateway to understand and shape the future of our society – and gives her the opportunity to help them do it in a holistic way.
“Our program inspires students to ‘listen to the city’ through a rigorous set of skills and applied strategies.”
Ashley notes that in the U.S., 80 percent of people live in urban areas, and that number is only expected to grow. Even in Idaho, a state known more for its wilderness than urban hubs, more than 80 percent of residents live in an urban area.
“I want to be a faculty member who’s connected with our university and our broader region. I feel lucky to be in the School of Public Service. It’s an academic home that values collaboration and civic engagement. Our urban program contributes to that important goal by helping inspire people and policymakers to create authentic, diverse, and sustainable communities that people are drawn to,” she added. “I learned about placemaking while working in the music business but it’s not just for the arts. It’s for everyone.”