Descend from the strip-malls and car-dominated Orchard St, south of Chinden where it turns into 36th, and you’ll see: Garden City is happening.

The din of construction noise echoes throughout the Surel Mitchell Live-Work-Create District, and sandwich boards advertise more to come. The Waterfront District, initially developed just as the housing market was beginning its freefall last decade, is situated right on the Boise River Greenbelt and just a two-and-a-half mile, car-free bike ride to 8th Street and the heart of downtown Boise.

Embracing the potential

On that ride you’ll notice something different from what you see on most of the Boise portion of the Greenbelt: commercial and residential development right adjacent to it.

Where Boise has taken a recreational approach to the Greenbelt, seeing it as a venue for a leisurely weekend pedal or stroll, Garden City has rightly identified its potential as a powerful economic development tool. It can deliver customers and employees to area businesses and homes at a fraction of the cost than if they were driving cars. Plus, would you rather sip your pinot grigio on the patio next to passing cyclists and pedestrians, or passing highway traffic?

Diners enjoying the patio at Caffe Luciano’s in Garden City. The restaurant provides bicycle parking but does not provide space for vehicles. Photo: Joe Jaszewski.

At nearly any hour of the day during Boise’s patio season, establishments on the south side of the Boise River west of Main in Garden City are bustling.

A sense of creativity and willingness to try new (old) things

A new coffee shop, Push and Pour, opened in an old garage space. A local winery, Telaya Wine Co., took over an unused hotel parking lot. A seasonal surfer bar, Yardarm, pops up in the warmer months in a converted shipping container next to a food truck. 36 Oak is being developed as a “pocket neighborhood” that eschews yards for community space. Local favorite Caffé Luciano’s opened in the Waterfront District without a parking lot, but with multiple bike racks.

The “gentle density” townhouse developments happening now in Garden City evoke New York Brownstones and Washington D.C. row houses. With alley-load garages, smaller set-backs, and little to no private backyard space. They use space much more efficiently than traditional quarter-acre-lot single family housing. As a result, it costs less to live there, both in home prices, and in property taxes. Indeed, numerous new developments in Garden City offer price points below the country average.

Yardarm mixes industrial with surfer vibe for its neighborhood beer bar. Photo: Joe Jaszewski.

Density has all sorts of personal and societal benefits over sprawl. Social interactions happen more frequently when you pass each other on foot and on bike instead of in climate controlled steel boxes, or run into neighbors recreating at the park instead of private yards. Who needs a time- and resource-consuming backyard when you have a park like Esther Simplot just across the bridge?

Fiscally responsible development

This style of development is also primed for multiplying economic benefits. More consumers close by mean more opportunities for business to set up shop, and not need a huge parking lot to do so, saving that land (and capital). Infrastructure costs less per-person when you have 12 homes per acre as opposed to 4.

That is a dynamic that doesn’t happen happen when you have reams of 80s-era zoning codes that mandate parking spaces, space-wasting set-backs, and car-necessitating separation of living, working, and shopping.

A new high-density housing development under construction in Garden City.  Photo: Joe Jaszewski.

Twelve homes per acre also makes public transit more economically viable, further reducing the community’s need for cars, roads, and parking lots.

It’s Garden City’s throwback approach to mixed-use, gentle density, people-over-car-oriented development that sold us. As Boise approves more gigantic parking facilities downtown, allows fears of car congestion to derail denser development that would house a growing population, it would do well to take some notes on its little sister’s approach to growth in the Valley.

Joe Jaszewski has been a Boise resident for over 15 years, and looks forward to moving into his Garden City townhouse this winter. Say hi when you see him cycling on the Greenbelt, drinking tea at Push and Pour, or playing with his wife and young son at Esther Simplot Park.


  1. Not to be a critic, but there’s plenty of businesses and residences on the Boise side of the Greenbelt, too, once you get out of the 3-4 parks it meanders through. While Garden City is finally waking up to the potential of the Greenbelt, and the advantageous proximity to Boise attractions (the parks, downtown Boise, etc.), it spent most of the last decade or so being frustratingly antagonistic to Greenbelt planning and development. Remember the COG case?

    • I definitely agree that the access to Boise’s various amenities makes Garden City more attractive. My frustration with Boise has been that it mostly sees the Greenbelt as a recreation amenity when it could very much be a transportation and business development amenity. And I feel like Garden City is more effectively embracing that.

      The numerous parks located along the Greenbelt are a double-edged sword. While the parks themselves are wonderful and truly jewels of the city, enveloping so much of the heart of the Greenbelt in public space makes commercial proximity more rare and therefore lessens its utility as a transportation corridor.

  2. Ha! “Moving to Garden City” was still news maybe four years ago at best.

    And let’s be clear, heralding your new proximity to BOISE parks (i.e. Simplot and the whitewater park) while simultaneously offering a backhand slight to Boise’s perceived lack of innovation is a bit annoying. We can presume you’re likely riding your bike to a Boise located job, on City of Boise greenbelt paths as well. We are all digging the renewal to that section of Garden City and for certain it’s renewal but the entire environment and lifestyle you’re moving for would not exist without the complimentary nature of both districts (i.e. Boise and Garden Cities). It’s more like the circa 2000 vibe Hyde Park emitted than you’re likely aware. As well, let’s not forget the trailer parks that are being replaced for townhomes were already some of the highest density developments in the area.

    • I definitely agree that the access to Boise’s various amenities makes Garden City more attractive, and Boise’s existence makes Garden City what it is. I’ve also paid Boise property taxes for the past 10 years so I don’t feel too about about using those amenities that I’ve contributed too. And yes, I still work and shop in Boise so they’ll be getting more tax benefit from me as well. And fair point about the trailer parks, however, not everything that’s being developed was a tailer park. There was still some low density / industrial that higher density is replacing. For instance, the lot directly to the north of 36 Oak that’s being developed was a single family home.

  3. The sentiments here about density, community, and transportation: I love and completely agree with, at least it a normative/idealistic way. The Boise metro area is certainly a heavy, car-centric culture, so seeing some development where density isn’t despised (*cough*nimbys*cough*) and a less car-centric lifestyle is encouraged is great.

    Being a practical guy though, I’ve found that this lifestyle is certainly not a very accessible one. When it’s noted “it costs less to live there, both in home prices, and in property taxes”, this is really relative, within Boise, to the North End in terms of lifestyle and costs. While the home prices for new property in the North End are wild, Garden City’s prices in that area are still above what someone making the mean income or likely pay for ($350k+ homes/condos). Even then, you have to be lucky to manage to buy a newer/new home in Garden City without getting outbid by outsiders who bring cash and are willing to pay 5% or more above appraisal values.

    My hope is that further density happening in Garden City makes this lifestyle more accessible for more people, particularly for those at or below the mean income, and I think Garden City is going the right direction with that. Communities benefit when people of many different socioeconomic backgrounds can live together, bringing creativity and some great cultural dynamics. However, as with Austin, San Francisco, and every other major city, but I can’t help but be a bit cynical and expect that the gentrification wave will simply spread, and Garden City will just be assimilated into this, especially with values currently at $350k+.

    Still, in spite of that, I think it’s great that we’re seeing housing options that aren’t just McMansions. There is something to be said for having the opportunity to live with less, nearer to core services, and maybe with the hope of having better public transit as a result of demand.

    • Check out some of the developments that NeighborWorks Boise are building in Garden City. You can buy a brand new home that’s in biking distance to downtown for less than $250k. That’s not really happening in Boise.

      I also hope that Garden City offers housing at all price points and keeps socioeconomic diversity in mind as it develops.

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