Downtown Boise grows up, and up, and up
“When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.”
— President Lyndon Johnson
A mayorship was once considered America’s second toughest job. Now, with the presidency devalued, it’s probably become No. 1.
It’s a job I don’t know why anyone would want, especially today in Boise. For there’s a “perfect storm” headed our way, triggered by this city’s metastasizing growth and fueled by over-promotion, under-readiness, and a general air of uncertainty about the direction Boise is headed.
Town fathers are quick to claim there’s virtually nothing they can do to control the nature and pace of growth here, almost as if they are innocent by-standers at some horrific auto wreck.
True, growth is largely market-driven. But I think there are lots of steps Boise’s leaders could initiate immediately to ensure citizens a more predictable future. Some are easy, some hard. This overheated local economy calls for a dose of well-timed modulation from the drivers with their feet on the community accelerator.
First, end the self-promotion. Boise’s growth will occur organically. It doesn’t need Chamber of Commerce boosterism anymore to bolster in-migration. The era of trade shows and glitzy, coffee table magazines touting Boise as a destination city should end.
Second, admit Boise’s growth isn’t benefiting everyone. The booming growth industry’s “rising tide” isn’t lifting all boats. Developers and land speculators reap record profits, a city government nets $1 million in additional permit fees, while millennials struggle for their first home, working-class folks scrounge for affordable apartments, the homeless proliferate on every street corner. (There’s coincidentally a moral component for Boise’s faith community in this growth dilemma.)
Third, stop framing the debate as “sprawl vs. density.” Growth’s far more complicated and nuanced than a Faustian, “one-size-or-the-other” choice. To become a great city, Boise doesn’t need to sprawl like Phoenix, nor to soar like Manhattan. The key is careful, modulated, appropriately-sited growth.
Fourth, settle these differences among local governments. A city that doesn’t manage its own arteries will never control its own growth. A highway bureaucracy perpetuating the outdated “pave-and-widen“ approach ignores the reality that bigger roads simply beget more traffic. A hidebound and heavy-thumbed state Legislature continues to stifle the taxing ability of its stressed municipalities. Average Boiseans understand all too well that our governmental oxen aren’t all pulling in the same direction.
Fifth, update zoning rules and regulations to reflect current realities. From an outdated comprehensive plan to antiquated zoning codes to simple, public notification courtesies like posted signage, Boise’s “grasp” has failed to keep pace with its “reach” in our development drama. We cannot aspire to 21st century greatness as a city under Mayberry-era rules.
Lastly, let’s finally retire the “America’s Most Livable City” slogan. It’s served us well, but now promises to create the sort of nightmare that threatens the very quality of life we profess to value.