This report is prepared by Dr. Jen Schneider, Professor of Public Policy & Administration at Boise State University. The report is based off the Community Conversation on Growth in-person workshops and online session available in June 2018 for Boise residents.
The following report analyzes results from three large community workshops on growth conducted by the City of Boise in June 2018. Although the workshops were moderated, residents were openly invited to share their excitement and concerns about growth in the city and a wide range of perspectives was shared.
However, four main themes of concern emerged as most significant from the three conversations:
- Housing affordability
- Cultural and environmental preservation
These themes, which overlap with one another, are briefly described below.
The issue that received the greatest number of overall comments had to do with housing affordability. Conversations having to do with the affordability and availability of housing centered around how to care for those who are most vulnerable, how to keep housing affordable for young people and families and the role of “outside” developers and infrastructure development and maintenance.
Closely related to discussions of housing affordability were concerns about wage stagnation—wages not keeping pace with the cost of living. Participants also felt that inequities created by wage stagnation were exacerbated by increasing social problems and needs, and the inability of social services to keep pace.
When participants discussed how they wanted to address housing affordability, they frequently turned to discussions of smart-growth, a concept that refers to high-density, walkable/bikeable/highly-connected, mixed-use development, with neighborhood business centers and other amenities, such as parks and neighborhoods. Smart-growth tends to be the antithesis of sprawl (especially with regard to environmental preservation and transportation), and is focused on creating a number of neighborhood “hubs” around the city.
As one participant put it, “We should be thinking about building neighborhoods, not subdivisions.” Participants also frequently noted they wanted the City to be focusing on neighborhoods outside of downtown, an issue that touches on another of the four major themes—governance. There is a perception that City Hall cares primarily for downtown and the adjacent neighborhoods, and that more investment should be made in neighborhoods outside the core.
Another issue that received a great deal of attention was transportation. In particular, participants frequently mentioned that they would like the City to explore the idea of building a lightrail; they wanted to see the frequency, quality, and affordability of existing public transportation—especially the bus system—to improve; and they were increasingly concerned about
long commute times as residents who work in Boise moved from Boise to surrounding areas in the Valley. North-South accessibility across the city also emerged as a theme of concern; traffic congestion was noted as one issue that is making the city seem less “livable.”
Transportation is closely connected, therefore, to the issue of housing affordability. Those who want to see more smart-growth would also like to see improvements in public and mass transportation. Those concerned with preservation may have also noted increasing problems with traffic and parking, while those worried about governance issues focused on the challenges of managing transportation issues when the City must contend with state (ITD) and county (ACHD) authorities.
Transportation issues also have overlaps with concerns about environmental preservation—because of air quality concerns—and with the ease of moving about downtown and between neighborhoods, which has to do with socio-cultural preservation.
Socio-Cultural and Environmental Preservation
Those who wanted to see more smart-growth in Boise frequently mentioned NIMBY (“Not in My Backyard”) arguments as blocking opportunities for smart development.
However, those who might be accused of NIMBY-ism could also be seen as primarily concerned with socio-cultural preservation, and not just self-preservation. These participants were predominantly interested in the preservation of historic neighborhoods, the character of the city, and the rapid pace of change. They mentioned the importance of maintaining the “Boise way of life”—big city opportunities with a small-town feel. Preservationists do not necessarily oppose development or growth, but they do oppose it in particular areas, in particular forms and without adequate consultation. For those interested in socio-cultural preservation, the lack of adequate and collaborative governance is therefore also a major issue.
Socio-cultural preservation can therefore be understood as the desire to focus on the quality of life in particular neighborhoods, maintenance of a small-town feel and the preservation of historic and aesthetic norms and attitudes.
In addition to some of the cultural attributes that contribute to “Boise”-ness, participants also identified what they saw as “core” geographic or environmental attributes. Many of these also came up during the discussions of what people appreciated about life in Boise.
Environmental preservation, therefore, has to do with the protection of existing natural amenities and with environmental quality. In particular, participants noted the importance of being able to access the Greenbelt and the Foothills easily. But they are also concerned that these environmental amenities are being “loved to death,” and that more must be done to protect and care for them. Air quality was also mentioned frequently as a concern, particularly in relation to growing traffic in the Valley.
Governance in this context could be defined as how we make decisions about our shared political and cultural lives. As should be clear by now, governance is a theme that cuts across many of the other areas of concern. Participants in the workshops felt that the City could improve in the areas of communication, transparency, education and participation when it comes to decision-making. Participants did not feel that the City was listening to them enough. Instead, there was a general sense that at the City, “money talks,” meaning that planning documents and even planning and zoning could be circumvented if the project was seen as desirable or lucrative enough.
Above all, residents want to make sure that planning is done collaboratively and that it is meaningful. Some perceive Blueprint Boise as “lacking teeth,” meaning that it is not always enforced, that it is opportunistically circumvented at times, and that it is not aligned with planning and zoning.
A relatively large number of participants also noted that they wanted the City to push back against the State Legislature when it comes to having the option to levy local taxes.