Boise's expansion has been decidedly outward, with neighborhood tendrils reaching out to become subdivisions and workers commuting from as far as Emmett and Mountain Home to work in the capital. But as high-profile mixed-use developments like The Afton (at Ninth and River streets) and Owyhee Place create more downtown living spaces, conditions ripen for an emerging trend: urban living.
According to projections from the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, there were almost 4,000 people living downtown in 2014. By 2040, 6,929 people will be living there. The Owyhee, which opened in early July 2014, added nearly 40 condos to the mix.
Part of the reason for the boom is jobs. Currently, there are about 20 jobs downtown for every person living there, but larger regional cities like Portland and Seattle have ratios closer to three-to-five jobs for every downtown resident. For downtown Boise, local organizations are seeing opportunity in cultivating a more metropolitan mix.
"People are looking to live closer to urban environments—where you work, potentially," said Karen Sander, executive director of the Downtown Boise Association.
But jobs won't be the only driver of population growth. According to Mike Brown, whose L.A.-based company, Local Construct, was a partner in the Owyhee Place renovation, the growing neighborhood will be dominated by young professionals, downsizing Baby Boomers and seniors. While families with children will likely stay among the tree-lined boulevards of residential neighborhoods, developers are betting some empty nesters will seek smaller accommodations near restaurants, nightlife and a growing selection of grocery stores. For Brown, Boise is ready for a shift in who will be living downtown.
"We sensed that Boise is right on the cusp," he said.
City planners have already begun creating infrastructure changes designed to make streets in the core safer. In 2013, the Ada County Highway District unveiled plans to convert seven one-way streets into two-way streets and add seven roundabouts downtown. From May to late June 2014, ACHD ran a pilot program that removed traffic lanes on Capitol Boulevard and Main and Idaho streets, replacing them with dedicated bike lanes and bike boxes. Though the pilot program ended after 30 days, the reception among bike commuters was positive.
The goal for some planners is a downtown with slower automobile traffic and safe, dedicated bike routes from the North End to the Boise River. All of this is part of a design to reconfigure how people use downtown Boise, turning it into a destination, rather than a thoroughfare.
When the two-way streets proposal was announced in 2013, Boise City Councilwoman Elaine Clegg told Boise Weekly that the plan would turn city streets in a direction citizens and city planners wanted.
"It's back to the future. We always had two-way streets," she said. "We changed them to one-way streets with the understanding that, somehow, we needed to move more cars through downtown. What we really need is to get people downtown."