Boise, oh Boise, what a town

Idaho’s cool cap­i­tal has plenty of things to teach us

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos -

Cal­gary is reg­u­larly com­pared to other ma­jor Cana­dian cities like Toronto, Van­cou­ver or, per­ish the thought, Ed­mon­ton. But what if we turn our gaze due south ... of the 49th par­al­lel. For the next two weeks, New Homes colum­nist Richard White mea­sures our town up against Boise, Idaho.

When I tell people I went to Boise, Idaho for a hol­i­day, their im­me­di­ate ques­tion is, “What took you to Boise?”

The im­me­di­ate an­swer is, “I’ve al­ways wanted to go to an Amer­i­can col­lege foot­ball game and we love small univer­sity cities and road trips. So when it came to a fall road trip, Boise it was!”

We dis­cov­ered this city of about 210,000 (metro pop­u­la­tion of 600,000) to have a vi­brant down­town that could well be North Amer­ica’s next ur­ban play­ground, with farm­ers’ mar­ket, arts and craft mar­ket, “farm to ta­ble” restaurant­s and winer­ies. De­spite the ob­vi­ous size dif­fer­ence, I thought it would be fun to com­pare Boise and Cal­gary as ur­ban play­grounds. Linen District ver­sus

Mat­tress District

Just to the west of down­town Boise lies an old in­dus­trial area that’s been branded as the Linen District, based on the name of its his­toric Linen Build­ing. The build­ing is now be­ing used as an art gallery and spe­cial-events space, much like the Sim­mons Mat- tress Fac­tory build­ing was. It made me won­der if per­haps our East Vil­lage should have been branded as the Mat­tress District. While Cal­gary’s Mat­tress District is cur­rently un­der­go­ing a mas­sive, multi­bil­lion-dol­lar trans­for­ma­tion, Boise’s Linen District is evolv­ing or­gan­i­cally with the in­tro­duc­tion of sec­ond-hand stores, as well as the up­scale A’Tavola Mar­ket­place, Big City Cof­fee, sa­lons, home decor and fur­ni­ture stores.

It is also home to Idaho Moun­tain Tour­ing (sim­i­lar to MEC) and The Mod­ern Ho­tel and Bar, an old mo­tel trans­formed into a chic ho­tel and funky bar. In­stead of ma­jor pub­lic art pieces, the Linen District has funky painted util­ity boxes.

Jane Ja­cobs, the 1960s com­mu­nity ac­tivist who wrote Death and Life of Great Amer­i­can Cities, once said, “Ur­ban re­newal should be evo­lu­tion­ary, not rev­o­lu­tion­ary.” It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how in 50 years the Linen District com­pares to the Mat­tress District. Ad­van­tage: Boise Ju­lia Davis Park ver­sus

Prince’s Is­land Park

Ju­lia Davis Park is on the edge of Boise’s down­town and con­nects it to their river, as Prince’s Is­land Park does in Cal­gary. This 40-hectare park is home to the Boise Art Mu­seum, Idaho His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum, Idaho Black His­tory Mu­seum, Zoo Boise, a rose gar­den, Gene Har­ris Band Shell and a la­goon com­plete with pad­dle­boats.


It is a com­bi­na­tion of Prince’s Is­land, Bow­ness Park and the Olympic Plaza Cul­tural District.

Prince’s Is­land’s 23 hectares are home to the En­max Stage, River Café and ChevronTex­aco Learn­ing Path­way. Per­haps if you added in Telus Spark and the Cal­gary Zoo, Cal­gary might be on par. Just across the street from Ju­lia Davis Park’s mu­se­ums is the new main Li­brary! — it is ac­tu­ally spelled with an ex­cla­ma­tion mark at the end. Turns out that when they opened the new li­brary in 1995, the owner of the lo­cal Fly­ing Pie Piz­zaria thought the sim­ple LI­BRARY letters on the side of the build­ing needed some piz­zazz, so he ap­proached the city about adding an ex­cla­ma­tion point. Af­ter some ne­go­ti­a­tion, he paid $1,500 to have ex­cla­ma­tion points added to the sig­nage and now LI­BRARY! has in­cor­po­rated it into its of­fi­cial name. Boise is quirky in a fun way!

Ad­van­tage: Boise North End ver­sus

North Side

Boise’s North End is a great neigh­bour­hood to wan­der around (walk­ing or cy­cling) en­joy­ing the old homes, go­ing for cof­fee or lunch or maybe some “win­dow lick­ing.” The area is well known for its early 20th­cen­tury homes, es­pe­cially the Queen Anne ar­chi­tec­ture. There are sev­eral dif­fer­ent “chill spots,” in­clud­ing the Fort Street Mar­ket Place, home to the Boise Co-op, the 13th Street strip of bo­hemian shops and the West State Street mar­ket­place an­chored by Al­bert­son’s gro­cery store. On Boise’s north­west ur­ban edge is the five-hectare Camel­back Park, a per­fect site for pic­nick­ing, ten­nis, vol­ley­ball or hik­ing into the foothills. In 2008, the Amer­i­can Plan­ning As­so­ci­a­tion des­ig­nated Boise’s North End one of 10 great neigh­bour­hoods.

The Cal­gary equiv­a­lents would be Hill­hurst, Sun­ny­side and Bridge­land, with their early 20th-century homes, Ri­ley Park (cricket, wad­ing pool, peren­nial and rock gar­dens and play­ground), Kens­ing­ton Vil­lage, as well as Ed­mon­ton Trail and 1st Ave. N.E. shops and restaurant­s. Ad­van­tage: Tied

Boise State ver­sus Belt­line

On the other side of the Boise River, south of down­town, sits Boise State Univer­sity (BSU) with its 170 build­ings, in­clud­ing the 37,000-seat Bronco Sta­dium and the 12,380-seat Taco Bell Arena. BSU is home to 23,000 stu­dents, while Cal­gary’s south­side Belt­line is home to 20,000 res­i­dents, many of whom are re­cent univer­sity grad­u­ates now work­ing down­town. The sim­i­lar­i­ties con­tinue if you in­clude Stam­pede Park with the Sad­dle­dome. While Cal­gary has the 10 days of Stam­pede, Boise has six days of game-day tail­gate par­ties. If you think dress­ing up for Stam­pede is a bit weird, you must ex­pe­ri­ence a Bronco tail­gate party. Ev­ery Bronco home game is like a Grey Cup cel­e­bra­tion. Ad­van­tage: Tied It’s half time. So far, Boise is up by two in this Boise vs. Cal­gary ur­ban play­ground chal­lenge. In the sec­ond half, we’ll look at how the two cities’ down­town cores com­pare in terms of street life and cui­sine scene.



Pho­tos: Richard White

The Linen District, in an old in­dus­trial area of Boise, is home to an up­scale mar­ket, a chic ho­tel and home decor stores.

The 40-hectare Ju­lia Davis Park in Boise in­cludes sev­eral mu­se­ums, a rose gar­den, a bandshell and pad­dle­boats.

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