Here is a nicely written piece BY JEAN McNEIL, a Boise Freelancer, which also appeared in the Daily Paper. It is published with her permission.
When I moved to Boise 30 years ago, I called it a 10-minute town – you could get from almost anywhere to almost anywhere else in 10 minutes or less. Now it’s a half-hour town, and the change has not improved my mood.
Traffic isn’t the only downside of rapid growth. New schools are being built left and right, and they are still overcrowded the day they open. There is pressure on our outdoor resources, and solitude is harder and harder to find. We are stretching our water resources to their capacity and losing valuable farmland.
Don’t get me wrong – growth isn’t always bad. When I first moved to Boise, it was clearly in need of a boost. The shopping was awful, sports and cultural events were practically nonexistent, historic buildings were being torn down, and the choice of restaurants ranged from Chinese to Mexican to steak, period.
For those reasons and more, I welcomed the growth of the late ’80s and early ’90s. It took us from a sleepy Western town to a vibrant city. It brought us a revitalized Downtown with unique housing, shopping, eating and entertainment choices; new parks and outdoor recreation; restored historic buildings and neighborhoods; and venues such as Boise Towne Square, the Morrison Center, Hawks Stadium, Taco Bell Arena and the Idaho Center. Shopping improved a thousand percent, as did dining, theater, music and sports. There was more traffic, and we became a 15-minute town – but it was worth it.
Not any more. We’ve reached a growth plateau, where the only things new developments bring are more cars, longer commuting times, worse air, overcrowded schools,
more competition for outdoor recreation, more pressure on our water and farmland and more big box stores. Do we really need another Home Depot or Wal-Mart? I think not.
But doesn’t growth bring new jobs and prosperity? Not necessarily. Boise has traditionally had a lower than average unemployment rate, and many well-paying jobs. True, every new Wal-Mart brings jobs, but who gets them? If it were local people, we wouldn’t be seeing the runaway growth – the jobs would simply be absorbed by people already here. Mostly, the new jobs attract new residents, compounding our growth problems while failing to make us any wealthier or unemployment-proof. In short, we’ve passed the point where new growth brings comparable benefits.
What can be done about it? There’s an urban legend that says government can’t prevent growth, it can only manage it. I don’t buy that. While growth probably can’t be stopped in its tracks, much of the worst of it can certainly be prevented. All we need is a determined government with public opinion on its side.
I believe voters made some bad choices for the Ada County Commission this year, and the only way to reverse out-of-control growth is for the citizenry to bring its will to bear on the commissioners. They need to know we’re tired of one big box store after another; of roads, schools, water and sewer systems that can’t absorb the new development; of overcrowding in our precious outdoors; and of productive farmland being sacrificed to ticky-tacky subdivisions. We need to start by making sure new growth really pays for itself, but we can’t stop there.
I think voters made some good choices for the Ada County Highway District, and I believe we will see progressive change at that agency. But how much difference it will make will depend on the direction taken by the Ada County Commission, the Boise mayor and City Council, and the Boise and Ada County planning and zoning departments. The growth-at-any-price mentality will only change if we let these agencies know – by our phone calls, letters, e-mail and presence at hearings – we want unchecked growth stopped. Period.
I believe a significant portion of the population agrees with me but has been silent out of fear of being labeled “anti-growth.” It’s time to embrace that phrase, because if we don’t, we risk becoming another Phoenix or a mini-Los Angeles. And if that happens, there will be no reason to live here.
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