Thursday, April 29, 2010

Walk and talk about downtown Boise

See this woman? She was the fabulous Jane Jacobs, an amateur urbanist who wrote one of the most important books of the 20th century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She believed that cities ought to be planned by the people who live in them; that density (within reason) and diversity bring vitality; that cool old buildings ought to be saved when at all possible; and that above all, cities are meant for walking.

This weekend, Jacobs' legacy will be honored with "Jane's Walks" in dozens of cities across North America, including one in Boise. We'll meet on The Grove at 1:30 p.m. Saturday (May 1), walk and talk around downtown for about 90 minutes, and (for those interested) continue the conversation afterward at Red Feather Lounge. (Thanks to Dave Krick for promising some goodies for us.)

We want to keep the group size smallish, but we really do have room for another four or five people. If you are interested, please RSVP by Friday evening, April 30, to And if you are reading this too late but would like to be involved in Jane's Walk for 2011 - perhaps in other Treasure valley neighborhoods - give me a shout at that same email address.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Busker do

Here's Boise's own internationally known jazzman Curtis Stigers, busking outside the Record Exchange on Saturday aka Record Store Day. In addition to two in-store performances by Idahoan-turned-Brooklynite Josh Ritter and the band Everest, many local musicians sang and played on the sidewalks outside throughout the day.

Busking is a trend that the local music advocacy group Go Listen Boise would like to encourage. "Our city is so safe, and our downtown core is so pedestrian friendly, why shouldn't the streets be filled with music?" the group wrote on "Busking Basics" cards distributed throughout the day.

Why not, indeed? As last summer's Curb Cup showed, Boiseans love street performing. Go Listen Boise says that there currently are no regulations or licenses for busking in Boise, and that with common courtesy and good sense, we can keep it that way. I've seen and heard some great busking downtown in recent weeks as the weather has warmed, and I'm going to try and catch some of it on FlipCam to post here on Sidewalk 208.

P.S. Curtis graciously kept his guitar gig bag closed to tips so other, lesser-known acts could get the day's spoils. Go Listen Boise held a killer bake sale for the cause, too. This town rocks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Play ball! (And blog about it, too ...)

The 2010 baseball season is about 10 days old. I've been an avid baseball fan since childhood, when I rooted for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the days of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and (a little later) "Goose" Gossage. These days, as far as I am concerned, there is no better way to spend a fine summer Southwestern Idaho evening than at a Boise Hawks game.

The Hawks have been in the news lately since the team is mulling the possibility of building a new stadium in the not-distant future. So it's great to see that Hawks General Manager Todd Rahr has tossed out the opening pitch of a new blog, Rahr Insight. (Todd, by the way, is a fellow graduate of Ohio University, lately famous for beating Georgetown in the first round of March Madness. And if we're lucky, our 'cats are going to show up at the H-Bowl one of the next few years, hopefully not against Boise State. But I digress ...)

Todd's first post is rather long but definitely worth reading, as he addresses several issues surrounding the Hawks' future. Personally, I'd love to see a new ballpark near downtown Boise, ideally along the Greenbelt and/or with skyline views. I also like the possibility of a new, upgraded stadium being the centerpiece of a true riverside downtown district for Garden City. However, I can see the advantages of building in Meridian, which is more centrally located for the entire Treasure Valley. Real baseball fans will follow the Hawks wherever they go.

Todd also promises to blog more about the possibility of Triple-A baseball coming to Southwestern Idaho someday. It won't be soon, but given our growth in the past few decades, we may be ready in another dozen years or so. That's another reason why I'll be rooting for the Hawks to continue to prosper in 2010 and beyond. You can follow the Hawks at their website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. See you at the ballpark!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Happy Start Walking Day!

From this morning's news roundup at Treasured Valley, I learned that this is National Start Walking Day. And what a lovely day for it, with blue skies, budding trees, and light winds.

According to the news release:

The annual American Heart Association program aims to get people walking for 30 minutes a day, with at least some of that walk time happening during work breaks or lunch.

Exercise physiologist Steve Sanders says regular exercise is a key factor in cardiovascular health.

"Walking helps reduce the risk of heart disease, which is the nation's number-one killer - for both men and women - and it helps reduce obesity. You have to make you and your fitness a priority."

Yesterday at lunchtime, I walked the three blocks to my local Albertson's to pick up some groceries. As I stood waiting for the light at Vista and Overland I heard a woman's voice say, "No wonder you're so skinny. You walk everywhere!" It was my next-door neighbor, pulled up at the light. I smiled and rubbed my belly as to say, "Skinny? Me?"

But it's true: I do walk a lot, up to 10,000 steps a day, as experts recommend. I walk for fun. I walk on errands in my neighborhood. At least once a week, I walk downtown instead of driving. That gets me the 10K right there if I walk both ways.

And while I don't feel I am especially skinny at around 140 pounds, this longtime habit - I've had it my whole adult life - helps keep me reasonably fit. So give it a try, if you're not already walking. It's the perfect exercise, and - as gas nudges $3 a gallon again - a good transportation mode, too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The arts: no longer a political hot potato

The chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rocco Landesman, was in southern Idaho on Monday to get a firsthand look at how NEA funding helps our state. His visit, arranged by Rep. Mike Simpson, was covered by the Idaho Statesman and The Times-News.

It's heartening to see that the NEA is not the political hot potato it was in the 1990s, when I wrote this op-ed for The Wall Street Journal to share some of the same sort of success stories Landesman saw yesterday in Boise, Jerome and Twin Falls. Despite stories like mine from all over the nation, Congress slashed NEA funding that decade, mostly in response to outcries over the works of a few controversial artists who'd received NEA grants. Funding levels have risen gradually since then, but the NEA remains smaller than it was 15 years ago. The Obama Administration's FY 2011 request for the NEA is $161.3 million, or about 52 cents per American.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

BSU students take fresh looks at downtown

Anyone who loves downtown Boise ought to have a look at the Statesman today. Page 1 of the print edition has two very cool stories that - combined with news of the first drop in Idaho's unemployment rate in 32 months - show Boise's brightest days may yet be ahead of us.

First of all comes the news that BoDo developer Mark Rivers has toured the old Macy's building and is at least thinking of a purchase. Kathleen Kreller's story notes that others are looking at the property, too. Let's hope that something can come together in "the big old barn" (Rivers' words) while the market is still down. The costs of the cavernous building - and of neglecting it - are only certain to rise in the future; on the flipside, the psychological and financial rewards of investing in such an iconic property could ripple valleywide.

Bethann Stewart covered the first-ever spring break innovate@boisestate conference, showing how five teams of students envisioned infill projects for downtown parcels. The first-place team proposed something called Zenabuki Village along Broadway between Front and Myrtle streets, described as "a mixed-use housing and retail development of condos and apartments where students, young professionals and other community members would interact."

Whole Foods Market has plans to build on this parcel (if we can't interest them in the old Macy's instead), and the students made the grocer the anchor tenant of their proposal. But they also envisioned a skywalk to the Boise State campus and a living center where at-risk teens could mix with college students to see the benefits of higher education.

The second-place team envisions an "Urban-Outdoor Nirvana" at Myrtle and 11th streets, including a transportation center with Zipcar and bike rentals; a concert venue; a children's museum; citywide volunteer center; and more. Read the whole story here, and see the proposals on display at the BSU Undergraduate Research and Scholarship conference, set for from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, April 12, in the Student Union Building. And bravo to BSU for an activity that shows how in-person higher ed can remain relevant in the Internet era.

P.S. If these stories set your heart and mind racing, please consider joining us for Jane's Walk 2010 on May 1 in downtown Boise. See the link for more details and sign up soon; the event will be limited to the first 15 people.