“Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.” –Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Much like the fated wonderment in Joyce Carol Oates’ 1966 novel title, the above line taken from Jane Jacob’s narrative on assessing the vitality of a city echoes an overwhelming understanding — the Boise Valley is growing at an unprecedented rate. Make no mistake about it. It’s not some prophetic exaggeration; it’s happening right before our eyes.
This year’s Leadership Conference, hosted and presented by the Boise Metro Chamber, focused on this very concept. It’s not just a Boise thing, or a Meridian thing, or a Nampa thing. It’s a Treasure Valley thing. Although Boise gets a lot of the spotlight because of its role as the state’s capital, the thought of “growth” seeping into our cities and quietly erecting new buildings, paving new roads, and planting new parks is anything but covert. It’s been a decade-long, valley-wide hot bed of activity that many cities in the Boise metro area are now facing head on.
In his remarks, the president of College of Western Idaho, Bert Glandon, mentioned while on his way to the conference he passed an empty, dilapidated structure on the side of the road, the words “Store” and “Saloon” on the structure’s façade. “There was nothing there … They didn’t plan.” While buildings along Main and Front Streets will certainly not be boarding up their saloon windows anytime soon, Glandon’s observation resonated with those in the room. Planning for this inevitable upswing in the valley’s population is not a task to be reckoned with on a whim. It all starts with three key ideas that Mayor Bieter so eloquently laid out.
Why Cities Exist
“There’re three reasons why a city exists,” Mayor Bieter began. “To keep its residents safe, to prosper, and to enhance what’s so sacred to its inhabitants.” The former two need no explanation and may not even get a surprise out of most. But the latter is a concept that every city here in the valley is fighting for. Individuality is something not learned or copied from other cities; it is a reflection of its people and the years and decades they’ve spent cultivating it. And now the question becomes, as more and more seeds ride the wind and take root here in the valley, what kind of garden are we going to see in five, 10, 25 years?
Along these lines was an idea that Council Member Elaine Clegg touched upon. It is “quality of life” and “livability” that drive a city’s growth. One can simply stand in the heart of downtown and walk a quarter mile in any direction and immediately stumble across a new brewery, dog park, or local coffee shop. Although just three examples of what make Boise “livable,” it’s clear the ears of the city are well attuned on its residents. And if having the most dog parks per capita of any city in the nation makes Boiseans happy, then other trends in growth best take note.
‘Breaking Down the Walls’
But as mentioned earlier, this trend is not exclusive to the city of Boise alone. Much of the call to arms at this year’s conference was in support of unity. During his inspired presentation, Mayor of Caldwell Garret Nancolas posed the question as if sitting down at a local coffee shop with the Treasure Valley and catching up after several years, “What’s Boise doing these days? How’s Kuna? What about Meridian?” The tides are impacting everyone. Homes are sprouting out in Meridian; students are flocking to the campuses of CWI and College of Idaho out in Nampa and Caldwell; jobs are attracting thousands to Boise. And above all else is a livability factor that continues to charm those seeking outdoor recreation and creative entrepreneurship. Beyond the figment of “walls” that speakers Skip Oppenheimer and Clegg called to deconstruct between these eight cities that make up the Treasure Valley, the weekend’s gentle murmur became a voice of unity. Individuals were suddenly eager to get back to their respected locations in the valley and start laying the groundwork in preparation of this growth while the emotions were still high, none more so than Elaine Clegg.
Making one of the strongest cases in favor of improved transit, Council Member Clegg, among many other speakers, notably Jeff Sayer, Bert Glandon, and Cece Gassner, argued that in order to accommodate this kind of growth the valley would need to combine forces and establish better means of transit for both suburbanites and commuters. Conceptualizing new and improved bus routes connecting Nampa to Boise, more strategic measures to handle perpetual rush hour traffic, and even the possibility (necessity) for a light-rail system linking workforce with workplace quickly became the foremost topics of discussion during the three-day gathering. And in a rather poetic cessation was this idea of transit uniting separate entities as one cohesive system, rolling out the red carpet, so to speak, for the inevitable topic on everyone’s minds.
And up steps Mayor Nancolas with perhaps the most profound observation of the weekend.
“A vision without a plan is only a dream. But a vision without a funding mechanism is a hallucination!” As the audience applauded, a collective nod of approval mirrored the statistics found in Dr. Cook’s survey. Currently, Idaho legislature allows just 13 instances of localized option sales tax, reserved for those cities that ride the economic wave that is the tourism industry. But as the numbers demonstrate the incentive’s popularity, the next question becomes how?
As we heard in closing at the conference, the only way an effort like this comes to fruition is if a coalition of businesses, public entities, and the great citizens of Idaho band together. When local option sales tax makes its way on a bill at the legislature, it will be up to that collective voice to be ready to stand up and support the measure.
‘Seeds of Regeneration’
Nearly everywhere we look, urban vitality has taken root and begun to mimic the growth patterns of its inhabitants. Budding businesses, residential properties, and sprawling parklands mark the topography of the Treasure Valley. And while there are and always will be those that detest the flourishing “seeds of regeneration” that Jacobs mentions in her book, no one can deny the overwhelming promise and possibility that the Boise Valley is experiencing. Those who call the valley home should not look about in amazement with their arms flapping around because so many others are flocking here by the thousands; they should look forward, hopeful and proud, with arms out wide.
There’s one final note I wish to add. During her presentation, Council Member Clegg spoke on the idea of “smart growth.” Merely growing as a valley in terms of its populace is one thing; but growing, while maintaining culture, heritage, triumphs and failures, and “enhancing what’s sacred” is entirely another. Boise will never be another Portland or Seattle or Salt Lake City — and that’s quite alright with us. But we better get acclimated to the term “growth” here in the Boise Valley. We’ve seen how it’s transformed this beautiful place over the past 25 years, and we will be ready for whatever it throws our way during the next 25.
Connor Jay Liess
Boise Metro Chamber