On a recent summer weekend, 7,000 Boiseans donned tiaras and gorilla masks and other sundry disguises, hopped on their bikes and slowly toured downtown together in a corporate sponsored parade that is bigger than its corporate sponsor. Colorado beer brewer New Belgium invented this summer bike festival, but in Boise, it is one of scores of self-defining annual events. The people of Boise—new, old and native born—just do stuff, in a big way.
TBR Blog is a space for commentary, opinion and reports on research in progress.
It’s a feature that is perplexing to students of cities, those who call themselves planners, because it depends upon spontaneity, individuality and rule breaking.
For a generation or two, Americans moved in droves to suburbs, where life is neat and orderly and well planned, at least on the outside. And for a decade or so, city planners and officials in Boise and in many rising American cities recognized that suburban sprawl was a harmful trend, destroying rich farmland, eroding ties between neighbors, leaching bodies from once-vibrant city centers and reinforcing America’s racial and class animus.
In this issue of The Blue Review, we find that the forces which prospered in America’s suburban era have caught on to the countervailing trend quicker than cities can respond. On the one hand, this means new investment in downtowns. On the other hand, purveyors of suburban aesthetics and values are crafting downtown America in their own image.
TBR 3, “The City,” our latest print supplement, appears this week inside copies of Boise Weekly. Read it there, or here and join us for a conversation on “creeping suburbanization” at 6 p.m., Friday, October 4 at Boise State Downtown, 301 S. Capitol Blvd.
Using Boise as our lab, our writers see creeping suburbanization everywhere they look. Starting with a historical review of Boise’s gritty, urban neighbor, Garden City, historian J.M. Neill finds that the city of Boise has always positioned itself as a more responsible, sensible, bourgeois uncle. TBR graduate fellow and journalist Andrew Crisp finds that the popular downtown market, Trader Joe’s, slated to open early next year, easily skirted the city of Boise’s weak urban zoning requirements to build a suburban-style strip mall at the corner of Capitol and Front.
Political scientist Brian Wampler examines the role of public participation in long-term transportation planning in the Boise valley, reflecting on the lack of voice for urban and disadvantaged populations. And my own essay on the future of the underdeveloped 30th Street area just west of downtown identifies one path forward for the city in terms of attracting what Boise Mayor David Bieter calls, “a more urban form,” that we don’t yet have the language to describe.
Finally, Jaap Vos, director of Community and Regional Planning at Boise State, reflects on the planning conundrum that is downtown Boise and comes close to defining what makes Boise right in so many interesting ways—a Mountain West conception of time that allows for spontaneous work and play and a cavalier disregard for the way things are supposed to be in favor of self-determination.
One of the features of the Tour de Fat summer bike festival in Boise is a slow bike race. Participants ride the 25-foot course as slowly as possible, without ever coming to a complete stop. They ride creaky old bikes—staged for a certain urban cycle chic aesthetic, to be sure—but their forward momentum serves as a fine metaphor for the way cities should move forward in the 21st century: slow and steady, suspicious of their own corporate backers and spontaneous within a deliberately creative and methodically urban framework.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.