The Idaho Statesman
Once again, Boise tops a list.
We've been named the nation´s best biking town and
among the best places to do business, attributes that likely
helped attract record numbers of new residents during the
1990s. The result: the most sprawling city in the Pacific
Northwest, according to a report released by an environmental
Sprawl is a dirty word to local leaders and others involved
with growth issues, but the analysis Northwest Environment
Watch of Seattle released today is based on a simple premise:
the fewer people living on an acre of land, the more likely
a city faces increasing traffic, limited funding for new services,
air pollution and loss of farm land topics familiar
to Treasure Valley residents.
The organization compared the greater Boise area, which includes
all of Ada County, to the metropolitan areas of Seattle, Portland,
Eugene, Ore., and Spokane, and Vancouver and Victoria in British
The study found that in 2000, about 7 percent of Ada County
residents lived in compact neighborhoods defined
as more than 12 residents per acre. That is more than double
the percentage in 1990.
Boise lags behind three similar sized cities in the percentage
of people living in compact development. The city lags slightly
behind Eugene and Spokane and pales in comparison to Victoria.
One of every three Victoria residents lives in a compact neighborhood.
Boise is still a very rapidly growing city, said
Clark Williams-Derry, the group´s research director,
and the way it manages that growth over the
couple of decades is really going to shape the city in fundamental
ways that maybe we can´t predict right now, but at least
we should be paying attention to.
The population boom may have caught Treasure Valley communities
off guard in terms of planning for growth, but officials from
Boise to Parma now realize they share many of the same concerns
about the effects of growth, said Elizabeth Conner, director
of Treasure Valley Partners, a growth issues group made up
of elected officials.
If we plan right, 300 people will do less damage to
the environment than 30 people unplanned for will do,
Conner said. It will behoove us to build in a more cohesive
and coherent pattern. And we´ll get there.
Cities in the valley are working to revitalize downtowns,
which includes building more high-density housing. Boise and
its two largest neighbors, Meridian and Eagle, encourage development
of land within city limits. An Ada County Highway District
consultant is talking to officials about a regional development
plan, which could set a goal of encouraging compact growth.
Each community now has a plan for growth.
The ACHD does not have enough money to keep building roads
for far-flung developments, spokesman Craig Quintana said.
Of the cities in the study, the Boise area experienced the
fastest growth rate in the 1990s. Also, sprawl in some of
the other cities is limited by geography, such as Puget Sound
in Seattle, or regulations such as growth boundaries.
Williams-Derry said the study used 12 residents per acre
as a benchmark because that is a density at which there are
enough people to support public transit. Low-density development
is among the reasons ValleyRide, the local public transportation
agency, is considering cutting back or eliminating service
to some areas.
In the Treasure Valley in 2000, there were pockets with more
than 12 people per acre, mostly in Boise, including north
But Census 2000 showed only one such area in Meridian and
none in Eagle.
The study shows that work needs to be done to increase density,
said Jon Barrett of Idaho Smart Growth, a group that promotes
compact development. That may include a regional plan and
reducing fees charged developers for building in targeted
areas, he said.
Barrett added that developers and elected officials are doing
a better job of fighting sprawl than a decade ago. It´s
not all bad news, Barrett said. I think we have