Editor’s note, June 2018: It’s been five years since this story was first published and it continues to be one of our most popular posts. Thanks to all who have read, shared and commented on this story.
More recently, we’ve heard from dozens of folks concerned about Boise’s rapid growth. Since 2013, about 10,000 people have moved to the City of Trees – and Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the country. We took a deep dive into the challenges facing Idahoans with a series called “Our Changing Idaho.” We hope to continue the conversation about what attracts people to Boise ... and what pushes them away.
Every year Boise ranks on a slew of top 10 lists. The city has been placed among the best U.S. downtowns, the best city to raise a family, the healthiest, best place to retire, best place to be a doctor, a good spot for yogis and asthmatics, and yes -- Boise was even ranked among the top sexually active cities.
With all of these best-of lists, we wanted to find out what is really driving people to live in Boise. We also wanted to understand what sends them searching for something else.
A couple of weeks ago we started a Reddit thread to see how Boiseans would respond to the question "why do you live in Boise?" (For another perspective, this Redditor asked "what are the worst things about Boise"). There are 44 responses so far, and some interesting themes have emerged.
Here's our unscientific list of why people live in Boise:
- Climate: Winter is mild, spring and fall exist, and summers aren't too hot (excluding the last two weeks).
- It's relatively affordable: Several Redditors commented that Boise is cheaper than Portland or Seattle, but has some of the amenities of a larger city. That's true. Census data show the median cost of monthly rent in Ada County is $805. Compare that to Seattle, where the median monthly rent is $1,000. Plus, the cost of goods and services in Idaho is less expensive than half of U.S. states.
- Lots to see and do: Boise has cultural attractions like the Basque Block, Ballet Idaho, Trey McIntyre Project, the symphony, the opera, and a couple of museums.
- Access to recreation: Boise is minutes away from hiking and biking trails, rivers, streams, ski hills and mountains.
- Safety: More than one Redditor mentioned Boise is a safe place to live. Idaho has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. In the West, only Utah's crime rate was lower according to data from the Idaho State Police Department.
- It's home. For some, it's the only place they've ever lived. For others, it's become an adopted home.
Boise State University professor and author of Ethnic Landmarks: Ten Historic Places That Define the City of Trees Todd Shallat moved to Boise about 30 years ago. What attracted him to the area was the myth of the West.
"It's the myth of the empty," says Shallat. "We’re all from some place else – most of us came from places that had crowds. We envisioned [Boise] as a frontier. God’s unfinished construction project."
It's that ideal, that myth, says Shallat that helped Ada County go from about 95,000 people in 1960 to an estimated 410,000 today.
Shallat says Boise is good at providing a nostalgic idea of home, even if we aren't from here. He says most people are looking for that quintessential Norman Rockwell painting, or the Disneyland main street. "There are places in Boise where if you squint," says Shallat, "you can see it."
Still, Shallat is quick to point out why Boise isn't a good place to settle. High-paying jobs are scarce. As we've reported, Idaho has the largest share of minimum wage jobs in the country.
The average hourly wage in the Boise-metro area is a dollar higher than Idaho's average at $19.53. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show half of the workers in the Boise area earn less than $15.15 an hour. In Seattle, for example, the average hourly wage is $26.87 and half of workers there earn less than $21.52 an hour.
Plus, Idaho's population boom that started in the late 1980s has come to a near stand-still. The state's population grew less than a percentage point last year while city population (including Boise) was up just 1 percent.
Redditor DorkothyParker wrote, “I think there is LOTS of room for improvement, but that is okay because changes are happening daily.”
Shallat agrees and says if you're inclined to get civically involved here, you can. “If you’re an activist who wants to make a difference you can have a huge impact in Boise.”
Here are some other comments from the Reddit thread.
JSleek: “Moving from Montana, Boise was a great middle ground. It was more exciting, the weather was more tolerable, and it had a great small town feel like home without being as hectic and expensive as Portland or Seattle.”
ID_Artista: “I moved here 20 years ago from Seattle- needed to get back to the high desert (grew up in Colorado). Even then, downtown was vital- there were restaurants, shops, events. I love the foothills- hike on ridge to rivers trails nearly every day. Can still get out of town and away from people pretty easily. The community is wonderful- a citizen can get involved and make a difference. For me, it's the perfect balance between having amenities like concerts, great restaurants & other cultural events & being able to get away from everything into the wild.”
TheMEEC: On a personal level, having lived everywhere from deep Northwest around Seattle, to the midwest, to my origins in Alaska, Idaho has always had the right balance of environment and lifestyle attractions for me. It's always managed to secure it's identity as my true "home", no matter where I wind up.
DizzyIzzie: My family chose to move to Boise when I was a teenager because my dad was hired by a tech company here. It was better than the country we immigrated from in terms of how nice the people are, but I disliked the weather (too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter) and how conservative/religious my peers were.
I moved away to Portland for a year and liked how liberal and tolerant toward non-religious people the city is. I came back to Boise because my boyfriend wanted to move back and I found a program I really liked at a university here. I love the direction Boise is going, but I still would like to move to a greener, more liberal city when I'm done with school.