Like any good marriage, a city’s relationship with its people rests on trust and continual reaffirmation. Commitment between partners doesn’t end at the wedding chapel with the mutual exchange of “I do’s.” It just begins.
By this measure, the city of Boise’s marriage with its citizens merits immediate intervention, perhaps even serious marriage counseling.
Symptomatic of a civil union in distress have been the issues of a proposed downtown events center/library and stadium. These disputes have always been less about a library or a ball field, more about living within one’s means and an accountable and transparent way of doing the public’s business. Desirable goals must not be pursued through flawed, opaque, and imperfect means.
Spouse #1: Boise, the “striver city,” always something of the coy and starry-eyed ingenue, wooed by myriad growth industry suitors and the dazzle of a fancy bridal registry filled with pricey gifts.
Spouse #2: Boiseans, the increasingly stressed and growth-weary partners, already worried about the bills coming due once the honeymoon ends.
Their union will be tested in November, as we get the choice: either a city-sanctioned measure under which power over city-altering projects remains in the hands of city fathers, or citizen-initiated oversight in the form of occasional binding votes on major civic initiatives. In essence, “fickleness” versus “commitment.”
More than 5,000 Boise registered voters this spring said they wanted their vote over costly projects that touch their lives and re-make their community. They hadn’t been consulted. This November, they’ll get their say, courtesy of their fellow citizens, who spent their spring going door-to-door for signatures in a rare display of grassroots democracy.
It boils down to whether Boise’s rampant growth will perpetuate itself under old and murky ways of doing business, or whether major projects will get meaningful citizen scrutiny before taxpayer dollars are committed to refashioning a city’s public face for a century. Rather than bickering with its residents, a city that earns greater citizen endorsement and consent is likely to produce better projects and more favorable results.
Concurrently, the most useful poll Boise’s city government (increasingly enamored of online surveys and questionnaires lately) could now undertake would be a simple, one-question query of the 500 most recent emigres from Seattle, Portland, and the Bay area: “Why have you come here?”
The results might prove revealing. People naturally choose locations for many valid reasons — jobs, schooling, family commitments, retirement.
But I’d wager a substantial percentage of Boise’s newcomers are simply tired. Tired of the crowding and congestion, high taxes, crime, gridlock, skyrocketing housing prices, and the many abrasive aspects of contemporary life in those places that were, themselves, once highly-desirable destinations.
Equipped with such timely knowledge, Boise’s desire to follow in those cities’ footsteps, mimicking their mistakes, might be tempered.
The questions from voters this election cycle will undoubtedly be no-nonsense: why do taxes constantly rise … yet essential services like police staffing and fire coverage lag? Why is road construction relentless … while traffic never abates? Why do we live in “America’s Most Livable City” … yet we can’t afford the rent or get that first starter-home? Why should costly glamour projects take priority over the basic “meat-and-potatoes” functions any city government must master before chasing visions of grandeur?
What should we believe … the marketeers’ concocted spin, or our own “lyin’ eyes”?
The upcoming election promises to be one of the most consequential in Boise’s history. For every candidate for mayor and city council, though, one fundamental, unavoidable question lingers: in the increasingly fractious romance between a city and its citizens, can this marriage be saved?