Let’s set an ambitious goal: 1,000 new downtown units by 2020

Boise’s downtown area is in the middle of an unprecedented surge in residential development, buoyed by a City Council goal of adding 1,000 new units by 2019. (PHOTO: Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman)

Boise’s City Council last summer did something pretty dramatic. In order to begin to fill demand for downtown housing, they announced a plan to award award grants and loan guarantees for apartments and condominiums in their downtown core. The goal? 1,000 new housing units within five years. Surprisingly, it’s not too ridiculous of an idea. Numerous developers have already jumped into the fray, planning to make use of special financing options, help with water and sewer from the local urban renewal agency, and of course, these grants.

It’s time Spokane set such an ambitious goal. 1,000 downtown units by 2020. Mark my words: we will make it happen. And we will do it with an attractive mix of housing options–from low-income apartments to luxury condominiums. Already Ron Wells plans to spend nearly $18 million remodeling the Ridpath Hotel into 200 low- and lower-middle income apartments and six luxury condominiums. Assuming this project reaches completion (Wells’ track record speaks for itself, although the Ridpath project has been plagued by delays), we’d be already one-fifth of the way to our goal. We could easily reach our goal if more developers jump on board. But they have to have some sort of incentive in place.

Adding residential to the mix downtown grows the population without increasing traffic or overburdening critical public services, like water, sewer, and fire protection. It adds more eyes to the street, reducing crime and making urban places more inviting for shoppers and residents alike. Suddenly the STA Plaza becomes an amenity, rather than a supposed eyesore. And perhaps most importantly, it grows the local economy by orders of magnitude. More residents downtown means more customers for local businesses like Nudo and Boots Bakery. It means more patrons at the Bartlett and more users on the Centennial Trail and in Riverfront Park. It means we’ll be better taking advantage of all that Spokane and the region has to offer. Moreover, study after study has proven that millennials and baby boomers alike prefer to live where all of their services are within easy walking distance. What better place than downtown?

Incentives need not be large. Boise is using a $150,000 fund from federal grants and lease payments on city-owned railroad right-of-way. Spokane certainly can find a chunk of money in its budget to make a similar investment. Perhaps a larger contribution or some creative development agreement could fill in the Rookery Block hole, or create a beautiful apartment/condominium complex across the street from a soon-to-be-revitalized Riverfront Park.

It’s time. Spokane is waiting. Having residents downtown pays long-term dividends. Let’s reinvest in downtown.

Boise adds “bicycle boxes” to its urban street grid

Boise is adding “bicycle boxes” as a better way to give cyclists the necessary space and comfort at red-light intersections. (PHOTO: Ada County Highway District)

The Ada County Highway District in Boise (their downtown street grid is managed by a highway district?) has announced that it is installing “bicycle boxes” at intersections on several major downtown Boise streets. These simple green markings have been used in cities like Portland and New York City to try to reduce vehicle-versus-bicycle collisions. They’re also experimenting with “buffered” bike lanes, in which lanes are separated from vehicular traffic by about a lane’s width of empty space.

This could be a quick, inexpensive, and bicycle-friendly solution to the problem of bike-vehicle collisions in downtown Spokane. It would be pretty cheap to implement, and could be completed as part of ongoing restriping and maintenance efforts (perhaps when Main is finally two-way?).

What do you think? What would it take to get Spokane to adopt this simple, yet elegant solution? Share your thoughts below, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in person. We want to hear from you!

Boise named a “Best City to move to”; What can Spokane do to land there?

Boise is thriving on a level which Spokane has not yet been able to attain. But we’re so similar to Boise that it shouldn’t be too far off. (PHOTO: Startup Boise)

Boise, Idaho, our perpetual rival and neighbor to the southeast, was just named by Simple Moving Labor as a “Best City to Move to in 2014.” This comes as Boise has been making national waves for its high quality of life, low cost of living, and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities (sound familiar?). Men’s Health, Livability.com, CNN Money, and the Brookings Institute have all recognized the city in recent years, and it’s clear that businesses are taking notice. The Idaho Statesman frequently reports on companies from local startups to big data firms locating in Boise, all locating there partially based on its high quality of life and low cost of living, as well as Idaho’s favorable business climate.

What can Spokane do to stay competitive?

“Boise embraces itself as a unique community,” Maryanne Jordan told KTVB. “We focus on a lot of local business, a lot of homegrown business. I think it’s a very diverse and inclusive community and that’s important. And you know … It’s beautiful. How can you not love it?”

Okay. So our inferiority complex doesn’t help. Better get off of that one. What else? Local business. We can do that. We have locally-grown companies big and small, from Boots Bakery all the way up to Itron. And Washington is frequently rated as one of the best states in the country in which to do business. We can provide some incentives. That might help. What about increasing quality of life? That might require some investment, but studies have shown that things like walking and biking trails, vibrant urban parks, and streetcar or light rail systems can spur long-term growth. These are obviously things that we need to start to look at.

But in the end, perhaps our inferiority complex looms even larger. We won’t get anything done until our city accepts that it is worth revitalizing, and I hope that with four distinctly beautiful seasons, a low cost of living, world-class outdoor recreation, and one of the world’s most beautiful urban rivers, residents realize the extreme potential which we are lucky to possess.