Boise, oh Boise, what a town
Idaho’s cool capital has plenty of things to teach us
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
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
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.
IS THE URBAN STRATEGIST CAN BE REACHED AT
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.