Idaho’s cap­i­tal has plenty to teach us

Boise proves that big­ger isn’t nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter

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

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

Stephen Av­enue

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.

Ad­van­tage: Boise

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.

Ad­van­tage: Boise

Potato ver­sus Beef

Fi­nal Score

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.

Richard White

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.

Pho­tos: Richard White

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.

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