Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Not so rural

This article from the Daily Yonder website breaks down the voting patterns of rural Democrats on last week's health insurance reform vote. For Gem State residents, the most interesting point is that Idaho's 1st Congressional District is not among the 100 most rural in the nation. Only about a third of the district is considered rural; the rest is urban. And yet Idaho politicians and parties consistently focus their appeals to the rural and small-town vote.

Why is this? Perhaps it's because all Idahoans, no matter where we live, identify with and love the outdoors - our magnificent mountains, our wild rivers and canyon lands, and the high-desert stillness abundantly available just minutes from our largest metro area. But the fact is, Idaho is increasingly urban, with the sort of issues - traffic, clean air and water, crowded classrooms, economic development - that dominate metropolitan life. We play in the mountains and enjoy small-town weekends, but we live, work, and go to school in cities and large towns.

Our state's current political leadership is rural in the extreme, with ranchers running the show. When will Idaho's metropolitan population rise up and vote for representation that identifies with the state's increasingly urban needs?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Pick us! Pick us!"

It's been six weeks since Google announced its plan to build a super-fast fiber network in one or more communities across the country. Communities have until tomorrow (March 26) to submit their bids. Boise, Meridian, and Nampa are teaming together to try and convince Google to "pick us! pick us!" I'm sorry to say, however, that we seem to be doing a fairly lame and belated job of it, unlike - say - Duluth.

However, there are very good reasons why Google ought to consider the Boise metro area's bid. Although we are the most geographically isolated metro area in the Lower 48 states, we have a strong history here of high-tech innovation. As Meridian's website says, "The Treasure Valley boasts the second most patents per capita in the country, it is the birthplace of the laser jet printer, and the home to the top semiconductor chip company in the country. We take pride in our innovation and creating our own destiny."

As well we must, given that our state's lopsided, reactionary political culture has been way more interested in laying asphalt than building broadband. So scoot on over to your city's website - Boise, Meridian or Nampa - to help show Google why a dose of fiber here would go a long way to create jobs and harness the power of the Treasure Valley's potential.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The facts might set us free

The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert penned a column in today's paper about new research from a Brookings Mountain West report showing that the Treasure Valley faces a highly uncertain path to economic recovery. Kevin does a good job outlining the study's findings, which included the sobering statistics that the Boise Metropolitan Statistical Area has seen some of the nation's steepest declines in housing prices and employment levels. (In both areas, we rank among the worst six of the nation's Top 100 metros.)

The Brookings report also was the topic of yesterday's Urban Lunch at the Boise Watercooler, featuring talks by Dean Melissa Lavitt of Boise State's College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs and Boise City Councilman David Eberle. My main take-away from the session was that - for the first time ever - the Boise metro area has extensive, fact-based research with which we can compare ourselves to other metro areas in the Intermountain West.

For as long as I've lived in Idaho (21 years this spring, including six years in Boise and 15 in Twin Falls), we've considered ourselves too small and too remote to be included in serious public policy research, and outsiders have certainly seen us that way too. But Lavitt and Eberle both made the point that BSU's participation in the five-school Brookings West consortium - coupled with the Boise metro area's population growth - make that serious research possible for the first time.

Unfortunately, the results may not please us as much as the myriad (albeit subjective) Top Places to Live-type lists that Boise has deservedly found itself on over the past decade. But facts are facts, and Boise's abysmal placement in employment and housing value metrics - together with Idaho's long-term lack of support for higher education and blurry economic development vision - should make us all take notice. We know what a great place Boise is to live, but it won't stay that way if we don't realize that this is the first recession that we can neither build our way out of nor solve through outdated economic development policy.

Update: The Idaho Business Review's Robb Hicken has a report on the study, too.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring cleaning, with a smile

UPDATE - March 9, 2010: Here's a video clip of the Maytag Lady in action - and with a new spring green frock, too.

Boise has spring fever. We have had it for weeks now, due to the combination of unusually warm temperatures paired with mostly gray skies. Early spring means crocuses popping out of the dirt, corn skiing at Bogus, more hours to walk and bike the Greenbelt, and thoughts of proms and graduations. It also means spring cleaning - but we can do even that with a smile, like the Vista Maytag Lady.

The skies were gray when I snapped this pic last week, yet the Maytag Lady was wearing the spring frock she's had on for a few weeks now. Come on, sunshine ... stick around a while!

Also worth noting: Food writer Guy Hand gave the Maytag Lady's neighbor, Cucina di Paolo, a fabuloso write-up last Friday in the Idaho Statesman. Mary Jean and Paul are on vacation this week, but they'll be back March 9 to bake the lasagnas and pot pies we all know and love. (Yes, these are the same folks who sell their homemade goodies at the Capital City Public Market each Saturday in the summer.)