Looking Down On Development

With the great weather Tuesday worthy of putting Boise on some magazine “Top Ten” list, we decided it was time to take a close look at the are we write about– from 500 feet in the sky.

Amazing how different things looked from the helicopter! It had been seven years since our last aerial tour of the valley and change is EVERYWHERE. Depending on your perspective the place has either gone to hell in a hand basket or is blessed with lots of “progress and vitality.”

Your GUARDIAN editor has been around here for 39 years, has vivid memories of the past and strong opinions about the present. Our two hour flight took us roughly from the airport to Lucky Peak, over the city west to Middleton and Caldwell and back to the airport.

Some observations from on high:
–Columbia Village used to be the town dump. Micron once sprayed effluent from settling ponds on the soccer fields which are still privately owned, but maintained by Boise Parks. Row after row of houses and two new schools.
–Hammer Flats has finally earned the agriculture property tax exemption that was denied last year…thanks to Lt. Gov. Jim Risch leasing grazing rights and running cattle on the land. The proposed site of several thousand homes overlooks Lucky Peak Dam.
–Lucky Peak Dam and Discovery Park are greened up and look ready for the summer season of swimmers and boaters. Nice that water is being used to generate power. Too bad it is owned by the City of Seattle.
–Harris Ranch looked better with cattle. Roads will soon be inadequate. It is no longer a place where the deer and the antelope play. They get killed by SUVs.
–St. Luke's has pretty much taken over the east end that was once a shady residential area. Great to have up to date medical facilities, but we miss the quiet residential area. –Downtown is bursting at the seams with big box buildings. It is jammed together and has little open space as the developers have made maximum use of every leasable foot. We have lost a lot of character and personality that cannot be recovered. The Capitol Building is still “stately,” but its dominance of the urban landscape is greatly diminished.
–The sewer plant at Lander street along the river is a park-like setting where 37 years ago we photographed giant plumes of soapsuds floating downstream. Improvements to the plant along with the scientific trash disposal at the county landfill are genuine marks of progress.
–The once vibrant agricultural fields of Eagle, Star, and Middleton have sprouted acres and acres of big houses with dark roofs and green laws eating up fertilizer and water. Again, if you live in the McMansion it is progress, if you like open space, wildlife, fresh air and clean water it is a disaster. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
–The box houses with dark roofs between Caldwell and Nampa in the illustration are all too common throughout the Valley. Invariably these subdivisions have limited access to a road and by their design cause huge traffic problems and demands on governmental services.
–We remember when St. Alphonsus hospital closed its doors on the downtown site and moved “way out to Curtis.” Today the campus rivals any big city facility in the country…for better or worse.

In summary, we know and accept “change,” but cannot be convinced it is “progress.” Our valley is being roofed and paved for greed and profit. We all pay for it in taxes and diminished quality of life some of us once knew and loved.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Dave, I just wanted to say that I believe the top photo of downtown is gorgeous and the bottom one – of the suburban tract houses – is unspeakably sad.

    Downtown is … downtown. It still has abundant open spaces, big parks, as well as little pocket parks. But it’s a city, for pete’s sake. I’d like more architectural diversity, too, and I wish we could’ve saved some of the great old buildings and spared ourselves some of the ugly new ones. But we have spirited public art, locally owned shops with personality, and those gorgeous parks and the river, right at the heart of our city.

    A final thought: Here in our neighborhood, we are plagued by some skinny houses that won’t sell, and missing some trees have been cut down for density housing. But I look out my window and I see tall trees planted 60 years or more ago – not the spindly little ones the suburban dwellers have in front of their mcmansions. And I live two miles from downtown and can walk or take the bus. Like I said, life in Boise is beautiful indeed, and I think our Top 10 listing confirms it.

  2. Harris Ranch is the one that really pains me. That Barber Flat area up to the foothills was once such a neat place. A unique open space within minutes of the city. Sad to see it go. Even worse that is filled with large homes seemingly only inches from each other.

  3. So let’s see some of your aerial photos from the past and have a little comparison.

  4. “Progress” and “Change” needn’t be mutually exclusive.

    This November, we have an opportunity to refuse to allow the further devolution of our fine city into just another sprawling, congested monument to mediocrity.

    To reject outright a paradigm where intelligent, inspiring stewardship is the exception rather than the rule.

    To refuse to accept the notion that business as usual is as good as it gets.

    To serve notice that “good enough for Boise” isn’t nearly good enough for Boise anymore.

  5. I moved to Boise in 1955. Life was good back then. Wages were low but we got by just fine. Anyone that thinks the picture of Boise is good now. Well they got to be one sick puppy. Quality of life will never be the same. Sad so Sad.

  6. I thought your observations on your observations were pretty balanced and reasonable. You certainly kept your guns in your holsters with this one! I thought there ought to be a third perspective allowed on how things are today, however — that being found somewhere between “hell and a hand basket” and “progress and vitality.”

  7. Looking at the row upon row of roofs in your picture, I think you meant to say that “beauty is in the behind of the beholder!” or, pretty soon it will be like the non-leading sled dog said: “the view never changes!” I used to be able to smell summer fields between Meridian and Boise. Not no more!

  8. BG, your comments are the very core of any discussion about the benefits of growth. We have a tendancy to call things progress….I don’t know if it is progress, if it is a disaster, or what…I do know it is reality. We all have a hard time calling it anything but progress because we are doing it. Who wants to wake up in the morning intending to screw something up.Progress makes it sound like wer are getting somwhere we want to be.
    I think all of your examples of your frustrations with “progress” are very valid…I would offer a few points to think about. All those residents in the houses, wether in Eagle/Star McMansions or in a 900sf Hubble between Nampa and Caldwell are typically just as proud of their “Home” as the next guy…and nobody forced them to live in any of them. The unfortunate thing about how ugly most of the residential growth in this valley is that it is simply a product of our poorly written, poorly understood, and poorly administered Zoning and Subdivision ordinances. The people that wrote most of our codes never expected to see the change in this valley that has occurred. Some good changes in the law have been adopted, but generally speaking all of our City ordinances leave little room for creative design. Couple that with the fact to get anything creative approved you have to convince our elected geniuses to accept it. It is all about the path of least resistance. I have to admit that I am part of the problem as I first moved to Idaho in 1990. I don’t have the 39 year perspective of the Guardian, but have seen an enormous amount of change since the first time I drove up Eagle road from the freeway wondering why in the hell anybody put an interchange on the freeway so you could get 8 miles north to Doc Lange’s house at State Street. Unfortunately, we keep moving here, having kids, etc. and we all want our piece of the dream. The unfortunate thing about change is that it never stops and only becomes good when the people that like the “new” out number the people that like the “old”.

  9. Gosh, Dave! I thought you were an old-timer! 39 years? I was born in the old downtown St. Alphonsus you speak of, a number of years before that. Curtis Road was WAY out in the sticks at the time.

    Once when I was lamenting how MY town has changed, the brother-in-law, who owns a retail business here, got quite defensive, declaring how good all the influx is for his business. And I s’pose I should be conflicted – I work for a company that is dependent on construction to stay afloat.

    But when I ride my bike through sprawling suburbia, with a neverending stream of cars at the elbow, I can’t help but miss the pastures and fields that have been displaced by seas of rooftops. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

    I was just watching the local evening news. The reporterette was gushing about how Boise has landed on yet one more “top ten list” or some such, like it’s a WONDERFUL thing. I’d like to see more publicity about how crummy our schools are. (Aren’t we always hearing that?) And how Idaho is #50 in community colleges. And the nursing shortage. How bad the air sometimes gets. Gas prices are #3 here, behind only California and Illinois. I occasionally see a bumpersticker: “Idaho, the slave-wage state.” Why can’t they just move away if it’s so awful?

    Maybe even make some stuff up… the Nazis have moved down from northern Idaho and are recruiting our youth. Graffiti gangs take over the streets after dark. Drive-by shootings. Could somebody start up a “Chamber of Anti-Commerce,” just to drive a propaganda machine?

    I’d gladly give up the mall, and the Taco Bell arena, and the 30-screen entertainment complex, and the connector, if I could go back to when the BJC Gym was THE indoor arena, the Boise and Pinney and Ada were the movie-houses, and if you wanted to shop at the mall, Karcher was a short drive away.

    Thanks, Dave! I’m feeling bitterly nostalgic now. You think Boise is a nice place to live? You shoulda seen it 40 years ago! The bad genie is out of the bottle.

  10. Mr. Guardian
    Even though you have been”38 years in Boise”, doesn’t make you much of a cowboy.

    Your statement “Harris Ranch looked better with cattle.” shows that you haven’t noticed in the last 38 years that Harris Ranch moves their cows up to the hills above Lucky Peak for the summer. My bet is the “cows will come home” again this year as they have done for the last 50.

    Maybe you should get out more?

    PS I have lived next to the Harris Fam. for 60 years now… good folks.

    EDITOR NOTE– Huh? Cows among all those houses and plans for retail, hotels, meeting facilities, and they won’t build the bridge they once promised?

  11. Mr Guardian
    The Harris Ranch folks still have their cows… over 400 so I’m told. How long will they be there? Your guess is as good as mine.

    But like I said, you need to get out more. Try flying over, or ( to reduce your carbon footprint) bike out in September. I know biking is a large come down for you high rollers in helicopters. It is always fun to see the little babies show up. I will miss that when it is gone.


  12. Re: Harris Ranch

    I’ve been going out there since there was an old car graveyard, just at the base of what is now Warm Springs Mesa. (Obviously a kid is attracted to something as alluring as a car graveyard! Back in those days, you went past the Idaho State Pen and the big Gate City Steel warehouse to get there.)

    Nowadays we (myself and several other cyclists) refer to Barber Drive as “The Cow Loop.” Porcupine is right – the cows are still there, off and on, depending on the time of year. But you can bet the city-slickers will eventually demand their removal. “Cows are stinky!” (in a whiny voice, by transplanted people who don’t realize there used to be a ranch at “Harris Ranch.”)

    I’m trying to treasure up the mental images. The pastures and cows. The “rock chucks” (currently in prolific abundance). The birds of prey. The deer – I’ve seen 20 or 30 before, right by the side of the road. I’ve chased a lone coyote for half-a-mile down that road. I love The Cow Loop. Soon it will all be gone.

  13. Yes it is sad to see development after development that look all the same or are unappealing. As ATeam88 said creativity in the code is not there to allow for good progress.

    In your flight I am sure overlooked some examples of good developments. What about the award winning Banner Bank building or Bown Crossing as a nice example of infill?

    In the Daily, Rocky Barker had an interesting piece on open space. It basically said Teluride’ s Open Space Levy lacked the funds for purchasing a key piece of land, so the community members forked over the remaining funds(25 million). Boise’s levy funds are about exhausted and private landowners should not be responsible for providing open space. How about some community members step up to the plate to preserve the Foothills?

    EDITOR NOTE–Banner bank is a perfect example of the problem! It is green, award winning, pleasing to the eye. BUT it is jammed into a small parcel of downtown. Double the size of the land or even put it in the center of a block with nice landscaping, underground parking, and a loop drive to drop off passengers and you have something. The Grove and Qwest center is typical of too much building on too little land. Boise is a “small town” no matter how much you crowd the core.

  14. I agree that the photo of the subdivision is unappealing and that good planning can help. However, we need to consider that not everyone can afford to live in a subdivision with lots of variety in architecture, maybe a park, and mature landscaping. Lots of folks need homes that are affordable, have room for some kids to play, and, if lucky, a place to park a camper.

    I realize that planning is important, but we need to provide housing that will not price people out of the market. It’s like Walmart, I may not like to go there, but a lot of folks need to take advantage of the good prices. (Been here since the early 70s. Born in Idaho)

  15. Do you remember the old fairgrounds on Orchard and Fairview – where the freeway is now? And how one had to actually leave Boise to get to Garden City as well as Meridian. . . I was born here too and I miss being able to see the stars at night from my back yard. Yes there are still a few stars….but the light pollution keeps most of the Milky Way out of our vision.

  16. I graduated from Meridian High school when the enrollment was less than 400. Meridan had 1800 population and one cop, Dairy Bar at the north turn. Boise had a population of 40,000 and a drinking fountain in front of city hall. My Dad’s family rolled into Boise from Wisconsin when it was a miltary outpost. I packed up, left Meridian ten years ago to much progress.

  17. Russ on the Bench
    May 21, 2007, 12:52 pm

    I was wondering what the motivation could possibly be that would allow the kind of devastation that “skinny housing” is causing in my neighborhood.

    I believe that there isn’t any way to defend the obvious effects of crowding too many people together.

    The end result is not only predictable; it is viewable in many cities all over America. If the current direction of housing on the Boise Bench continues, we will have had the unique experience of watching a ghetto of the future being built.

    The people who will profit from this travesty will never live there, but we hope to name our ghetto, Pete Town, after the current Mayor so that this legacy can follow him to future political aspirations.

  18. Leaving Little Bel Air
    Jun 6, 2007, 12:29 pm

    You said: “The once vibrant agricultural fields of Eagle, Star, and Middleton have sprouted acres and acres of big houses with dark roofs and green laws eating up fertilizer and water. Again, if you live in the McMansion it is progress, if you like open space, wildlife, fresh air and clean water it is a disaster. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

    The “People” of Eagle miss the beauty. The people in the Mcmansions as you call them, don’t care anyway or they wouldn’t have over-built our city into the dredges of a “Little Bel Air”.

    But you better watch out, it’s going to get worse, because those of us who have tried to stick it out will eventually leave now that the powers that be are demolishing the foothills as well. Eagle needs a new name: I vote for Little Bel Air myself. The new breed of Eagle residents would LOVE it.

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