Idaho’s capital has plenty to teach us
Boise proves that bigger isn’t necessarily better
Calgary is traditionally compared to cities like Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto, but New Homes columnist Richard White thought it might be interesting to see how we stack up against Boise, the capital of Idaho.
After last week’s head-to-head comparison, Boise was up on our town by two points, with Julia Davis Park beating out Prince’s Island and Boise’s Linen District edging out our Mattress District, a.k.a. the East Village. This week, the David (Boise) versus Goliath (Calgary) battle continues with a look at the two city’s downtowns, their historic districts and potato versus beef cultures. Downtown versus
Downtown Boise is an interesting place in that it has few major office or condo towers, no department stores and no mega indoor shopping centre. So, what is there you ask? While Calgary’s dense downtown is dominated by mega office towers, shopping centres and corporate hotels, Boise’s downtown is very pedestrian friendly with streets full of locally-owned shops, restaurants, cafes and bistros with just a sprinkling of office buildings, hotels and the majestic Capitol Building.
While Calgary spends millions on public art, Boise created its renowned Freak Alley for next to nothing. The approach was basi- cally, take an alley, find a curator to invite some artists to paint murals on the backsides of buildings and voila — an outdoor gallery that can be enjoyed free of charge anytime, any day, by anybody.
Both downtowns have created a vibrant pedestrian street: Boise’s is 8th Street while Calgary’s is 8th Avenue. Both have wide sidewalks and are actively programmed and have become the heart of their downtown. The centrepiece of Boise’s downtown is unquestionably the State Capitol Building, completed in 1912 with its magnificent 63-metre-high dome.
The interior is just as inspiring with extensive use of marble from Georgia (red), Alaska (grey), Vermont (green) and Italy (black) for its floors, pillars and staircases. There is also a wonderful collection of statues, murals and art, all accessible for public viewing via a self-guided or guided tours.
Calgary has nothing to match this historical gem.
Downtown Calgary also has nothing to match the Boise’s Capital City Public Market which operates every Saturday from April to December.
In prime time, 150-plus vendors take over six blocks in the middle of downtown, selling their wares to more than 15,000 visitors a day. It creates a wonderful festival atmosphere every Saturday nine months of the year. On the other hand, Boise has nothing to match Calgary’s Core, Bankers Hall, The Bay, Holt Renfrew retail centres; somehow we didn’t miss all the national and international retailers that permeate almost every mall in every city across North America.
This past year, downtown Calgary lost one of its two art house cinemas (Uptown), leaving only the Globe, which has also been rumoured several times to be closing. Boise boasts what might be the best little art house cinema in the west. Called The Flicks, it has four movie theatres, a restaurant (that serves up food, great wines and craft beers on tap, inside or on its outdoor patio) and also has an extensive international movie rental room. The Flicks is funky!
Advantage: Tied Basque Block versus
Calgary is home to the Stephen Avenue National Historic District; Boise is home to the Basque Block.
Boise has the largest Basque population in North America. (The Basque in Spain is on the French border and is probably best known for the city of Bilbao, where the famous Frank Gehrydesigned Guggenheim Museum is located.)
While Calgary’s Stephen Avenue Walk is historically significant in Canada, Boise’s Basque Block is unique in North America and perhaps the world. The one block of Grove St. between Capitol Boulevard and 6th St. includes a Basque museum, market, cultural centre, restaurants and bar. The museum is definitely on the “must do” list for any visitor as it is both a history museum and modern art gallery. It also includes two original Basque boarding houses that you can tour. The Cultural Centre fosters the preservation and promotion of the Basque in Boise and Idaho. It is based in the Anduiza building built in 1912, with its original Fronton Court (a huge, three-walled court 10 metres high, 30 metres long and 15 metres wide). The game of Basque pelota is played with four people (two teams of two) who hit a rubber tennis-size ball with a solid wooden racket — a bit like a cross between squash and doubles tennis. Boise is definitely unique! Across the street is the Basque Market, which is home to the biggest paella pans I have ever seen. They are stored hanging from the ceiling and it takes two people to bring them down. Wednesdays and Fridays at noon, it is a “paella frenzy” on their street patio or you can check out the Thursday paella dinner. There is also the Bar Gernika at the end of the block, which is a “must do.”
While Stephen Avenue has lots of restaurants, patios, squash courts, the Glenbow Museum and Epcor Performing Arts Centre, it lacks the Basque Block’s uniqueness.
Calgary, with its “corporate expense account” restaurants, has been making a name for itself with some of the best new restaurants in Canada.
When it comes to eating local, Idaho has one of the most diverse agricultural industries in North America — 25,000 farmers produce more than 185 crops. Everyone knows Idaho is a major potato producer in the U.S., but did you know that 70 per cent of the commercial trout produced in the U.S. comes from Idaho and that it is a major onion producer? You gotta love a restaurant named Bacon and its tag line “bacon, bistro and bloody marys.” John Berryhill, who owns Bacon and two other downtown restaurants expects Bacon will serve 150,000 strips of bacon this year, some of which will be delivered free of charge downtown via the “bacon bike.” Another popular Boise “farm to table” restaurant, Fork is in a historic bank building on vibrant 8th Street and would fit right in with Calgary’s Stephen Avenue cuisine scene. Add to that the northern Spanish restaurants on the nearby Basque Block, as well as Bardenay, a distillery/ restaurant, and it’s clear Boise offers a wonderfully diverse cuisine scene. And, yes, Boise also has a vibrant cafe culture with plenty of street patios. Just 30 minutes away lies the Snake River Valley wine region where more than 40 wineries, many with tasting rooms, can be found.
Potato versus Beef
After all is said and done, despite Calgary’s billion-dollar office towers, billion-dollar urban renewal schemes and multi-million dollar public artworks and pedestrian bridges, Boise kicks our butt. As the old saying goes, bigger isn’t always better.
A man is busy with a huge paella pan at the Basque Market in Boise. The city has the largest Basque population in North America.
The centrepiece of Boise’s downtown is its State Capitol Building, completed in 1912, with its magnificent 63-metre-high dome.
Boise’s downtown is full of locally owned shops, restaurants and a sprinkling of office buildings.