Is Boise Better?
Interior vs. Exterior Growth
Regarding the "Is Boise Better?" package in the 12/16/04 issue of The Inlander: In late 1991, my wife and I decided to make a quality-of-life move to the Pacific Northwest. After eliminating our first choice -- December is not a good month to get excited about Portland -- we explored both Boise and Spokane. On balance, we found them to be comparable in assets and liabilities, but we ended up choosing Boise. However, we quickly became disillusioned with the impact of poorly planned growth. As a consequence, I formed a nonprofit group that, in association with Boise State University and the League of Women Voters, introduced the concept of "New Urbanism" to city leaders and the general population. The result was a set of codes that permitted more comprehensive development. Today, Boise is home to several comprehensive residential developments that, in part, exist due to the establishment of these codes.
I soon realized that this type of development did not necessarily lead to a better quality of life. The hurry-up, race-around culture meant that most people did not have the time to walk to the store even if it was just around the corner. There had to be more to the quality-of-life equation than the physical infrastructure.
After spending several years at the coast (Boise had jobs, but the pay was dismal), we decided to move back to the interior. This time we elected to move to Spokane, primarily due to the climate and the quality -- and price -- of homes in the "streetcar suburbs." My real estate career took me to most of the major cities across the country, and I am aware of few residential neighborhoods that compare favorably with those developed in Spokane between about 1910 and mid-century. The low cost of living -- and the indulgence of my spouse -- has permitted me to explore the quality-of-life issue further. My research has led me to believe that there can be a more integral way of living -- one that balances "exterior" development and "interior" development (see www.integralinstitute.org).
In many respects, I believe Spokane is well positioned to be a leader in this exciting new field. The University of Notre Dame has an executive program (www.nd.edu/~execprog/programs/eilp), that teaches integral perspectives. Gonzaga would be a natural candidate to provide this type of education to the community and the student body. One of the leading Catholic figures, Father Thomas Keating, is a "fan" of the concepts. In addition, I believe that many of those moving to the area are seeking a more contemplative life than the one they left behind.
Both Boise and Spokane can be wonderful places to live. The key to the future of both will be to stop focusing on "external" development and start focusing on "internal and integral" development. The beauty of internal development is that there are no growth boundaries -- outside of the self-imposed.
Making A List
As someone who mostly grew up in Boise (until 1987), raised a family in Spokane (1987-2002), then returned to Boise, I may be somewhat qualified to express an opinion on the subject of Boise vs. Spokane. A friend from Spokane recently sent me the Inlander's 12/16/04 issue with the "Is Boise Better?" package, to see what I thought -- which, by the way, I enjoyed reading. For what it's worth, here are my impressions.
Boise vs. Spokane Impressions:
New corporate money vs. Old money
White collar vs. Blue collar
Governed by the people vs. Governed by a small elite
Youthful vs. Aged
Newcomers vs. Settled
$54,000/year avg. income vs. $46,000/year avg. income
Clean streets/new cars vs. Dirty streets/older cars
Many blue skies vs. Many gray days
Street corners with panhandlers vs. Street corners with pedestrians
Red state vs. Blue state (and all that goes with that)
General natural beauty vs. concentrated natural beauty
Diversity of every kind vs. Sameness (people, culture, trees, birds, food, industry, opportunities, etc., etc.)
Progressive vs. Provincial
Inclusion vs. Segregation.
When I first moved to Spokane in 1987, I said that it had three times the people and 10 times the culture of Boise. For a myriad of reasons, during the 15 years we lived in Spokane, Boise waxed and Spokane waned -- so much so, that I would now say that although they have the same number of people, Spokane only has slightly more culture (if that). If I were to summarize my opinion of Spokane's "plight," it would be that she hung her hat on the 1974 Expo and then forgot where she left it. I still love and miss Spokane, but I am growing to love Boise.
I would like to respond to the recent articles in the "Is Boise Better?" package (12/16/04) that compared Boise and Spokane. This topic interests me a great deal because I was born and raised in Spokane but served four and a half years at Mountain Home AFB, about 45 miles east of Boise. I'm always discussing how Spokane could be made better with my friends and coworkers and, yes, I am trying to improve my own neighborhood.
The first thing I noticed about Boise was the cleanliness of the downtown and surrounding area. The owners and operators of the stores take the time and effort to maintain the exterior of their buildings, which in return gives back to the community. I believe this is a lesson we could learn from -- some paint and a weed wacker can go a long way. The second and biggest reason why Boise has an edge over Spokane is its vibrant nightlife. Just like other great mid-size cities including Austin, Texas, Boise has a centralized nightlife, with all the bars and clubs located on a main street. There is live music spilling out onto the avenue; you can buy a Yankee Dog or a cheese steak while you walk door to door checking out the scene at each bar. You can also feel comfortable knowing that Boise's finest are patrolling the area, keeping an eye out for those who are not there to have a good time.
Not only can Spokane capitalize on this idea -- we can make it greater. We have more and bigger colleges in our area and we have Fairchild Air Force Base, which is only 15 miles away. By creating a safe centralized nightlife downtown we can bring everybody together with the focal point of having a good time and giving them a reason to appreciate our city. To give some credit to Spokane, we could teach Boise a lesson about parks, from Manito to our new skate park in Hillyard where we continue to improve. In conclusion, we need to not only be a great place to raise kids but a great place for them to be adults. Is Boise better than Spokane? No, we just haven't capitalized on our potential.
Boise's Streets, Parks Better
I'm not sure if the three reporters from The Inlander found the mystique, but it's obvious that after staying two nights in Boise hotels that they did not find the most basic features of that city that were presented everywhere they traveled.
I have lived most of my life in Spokane, but traveled monthly to cities in the Northwest like Boise and I watched it change -- almost a mirror image in reverse of Spokane's lack of growth or even maintenance. The last three years, I even had a better look staying with my daughter -- a teacher in the Boise area who lives within walking distance of Boise State University -- the Boise River, walking trails and many parks.
To ignore the condition of Spokane roads, especially our non-arterial streets, is like thinking a person can look and be healthy with all of their blood vessels plugged. Were those Inlander reporters being ferried around in helicopters? That is the first effect of whatever Boise is doing right. A person in a car can get around the city, even to Meridian, without their car and liver being shaken to pieces.
All of that may be because of Boise being the state capital or more because of tax money from the growth in new business, but it is still the main obvious fact on the arrival to that city from Spokane.
My daughter who drives through the city daily has never seen the big hole of eighteen years downtown nor have I in my visits. All I see is a downtown, while smaller than Spokane, with all the main street stores occupied and people walking and walking all over the city. It is vibrant, with a feeling of safety. Also safety from our local Spokane police who are too busy to respond to phone calls, but not too busy protecting us from ourselves with speed traps. It maybe there, but I never saw it with the regularity of Spokane.
As far as the arts or culture, I'm not sure Spokane is lagging behind. I've been to most of the coffee houses, record shops and restaurants in Boise and Old Town mentioned and they have a ways to go before they approach Portland or Seattle even on a small scale.
It is still a city that's weighed heavily with its past, but that's also what makes it such a livable and clean community.
What the reporters really missed was the parks and rafting the Boise River. As proud as Spokane is of its parks -- and we have a few great ones -- Boise outstrips us there too. But rafting down the river is really the community glue, a daily summer carnival. You would be hard pressed to interview a person on the Boise streets, young or old, who has not participated.
The Spokane Mystique
Your Boise story, "In Search of the Boise Mystique," (12/16/04), was fascinating. As one who was raised in Pullman and as a WSU graduate, I always felt Spokane had a "mystique" about it. I enjoyed swim meets in the Comstock Pool, and seeing John Brodie and Stanford play WSU in Spokane. I was thrilled to catch a Wally Moon baseball game when Los Angeles played the Spokane Indians. At PHS, we played Shadle Park, Central Valley, Rogers, North Central, University High, West Valley, Lewis & amp; Clark and Mead in sports. I loved eating at the Shack and shopping in beautiful Spokane. I remember being very proud that Spokane hosted a world's fair. I still consider Spokane to be a great city for families, for work and for play.
Yes, Spokane and Boise both generally have it all when it comes to quality of life. I have lived in Idaho for nearly 30 years and am a very proud Idahoan. But I will always have extremely fond memories of growing up in Pullman, of being a Pullman Greyhound and a WSU Cougar and of being always deeply impressed with Spokane. You truly do live in or near a great city.
Roger B. Madsen
Publication date: 1/06/04