A weekend visit with the college-student daughter in Boise, Idaho, revealed a community capitalizing on its assets.
Government, certainly, is a fundamental component in Idaho’s capital city. Health care is substantial. There are major corporations in residence, too, and they’re not necessarily tied to Idaho’s famous potatoes. Technology, in fact, is now a greater contributor to the Idaho economy than agriculture.
Education is enormous, as big as the massive new, four-story press box and luxury suite addition atop Boise State University’s 30,000-ish seat football stadium, the place with the only blue field in Division I football. (Our daughter reports that a flying goose met its demise when it mistook the field for water. And, when she announced plans to transfer to BSU, the quip “the grass is always bluer on the other side” didn’t register. It does now.)
The press box and luxury suite addition, funded in part with $36 million in public bucks, came in the euphoria of the Broncos’ 2007 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, one of the best college football games in recent memory. For those who think football is only a drain, BSU pulled in more than $3 million from that Fiesta Bowl appearance, student applications skyrocketed, and the result is a football-crazy, orange-and-blue, bustling campus and community that get more TV time than you’d expect. BSU has bought into the modern sports/media relationship; it plays two home games on Fridays and one on a Wednesday this fall, all for TV.
There’s a bowl game in Boise, too, the Humanitarian Bowl, with Western Athletic Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference schools participating. It’s played in late December, a time when the Boise climate is often mild, and the American viewing audience is often cold and sedentary. Images connect.
Why the Humanitarian Bowl, in the middle of Idaho? Within walking distance of the stadium is the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust diarist. Private citizens and corporations gave $1.8 million to the creation of a water-influenced centerpiece with stone-carved quotations and an inspirational call to higher purpose. The memorial is next to the Boise River, which has a parallel walking and cycling path stretching for miles. Yes, a river runs through Boise, and the community has embraced it. The combination of city center and campus is relatively compact, very modern, and accessible by foot or bicycle. And there’s not a major interstate running through it. Education, culture and business are one.
There is a crane on the Boise skyline, and it is being used to build luxury condos (up to $2 million apiece) in downtown. And why not. Most everything a resident would need is nearby.
Not that Boise is perfect. There’s a hole in the middle of Boise where construction of an office/retail skyscraper has stopped long enough for small trees to grow within the vertical rebar. Like greater Tucson, like everywhere, Boise is weathering a storm. But it is poised to proceed.
Every community provides examples for others. The Boise illustration may be this — invest in education, maximize the exposure that comes from athletics, use public money to create attractions and amenities in a concentrated location of education, sports, culture and business, encourage the private sector to respond with investment, protect and celebrate your natural advantages, and don’t expect someone else to solve your problems.