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A love letter to the Boise Bench: Why I love this always-changing part of Idaho

Tamarack Resort Q4 2020

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Boise Bench lately. It’s the place I grew up – attending the original Cole School, Hillcrest, South, and Borah. My parents still live there and I visit at least a few times per week. My family started and still owns Vista Village.

I love the Bench.

The area has charm and character and some of the best things that make Boise, Boise. It has sweeping views of the Boise Foothills and Downtown. It has an ever-evolving mix of neighborhoods. It features restaurants of every type (Cuban! Mediterranean! Big Bun!).

It’s close to literally everything – Downtown, the airport – heck even a jaunt over to Village at Meridian is short.

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Some of the most unique icons of Boise anchor the Boise Bench – the classic Boise Depot, the hard-working Betty the Washer Woman, the pyramid-shaped credit union, and even the ghostly South Junior High Amphitheater.

The area also gives home to a diverse array of people – including large numbers of the Boise refugee community. The area also has a lower median household income than Boise as a whole, and many of the city’s working-class live in the area. The average resident in 83705 is also younger than the city as a whole and more people live in poverty. The 83705 ZIP code also has a much higher concentration of renter-occupied homes, 49% versus 38% for all of Boise.

Like anything in 2020, there are challenges ahead. Housing prices continue to rise fast – both for homes and apartments. The Bench continues to have serious infrastructure needs – including tons of streets that lack sidewalks. And of course, there’s the water.

State of change

There’s quite a bit of change coming to the Boise Bench as our region and valley change. After the Boise School District tore down the historic Franklin School to make way for a gas station, the site sat empty for years. Now, the City of Boise hopes to work with a developer to build a 4-story housing, retail, and office project. It will add density near a transit corridor and city park.

The Bench has been in a constant state of change. Orchard St. isn’t named randomly — it’s named because it used to run through Apple orchards. Not so much anymore. The Western Idaho Fair used to sit on Orchard near the Connector (that’s where Fairview got its name of course).

But there’s a thread that’s always run through the Boise Bench – and it’s that Boise spirit. A collective yearning to make things better than before. To watch out for neighbors. To wave when someone lets you into traffic. Former Boise Mayor Dave Bieter tried to brand this as “Boise Kind” — but I’ve always just thought of it simply as “Boise.”

In coming decades, we’ll see more change on the Bench. Urban renewal might play a part. Moving the tank farm could mix in. Continued infill and redevelopment will most certainly play a role.

If past is prologue, though, the Boise Bench will be like Betty the Washer Woman. Always at work. Always iconic. Always a big part of Boise.

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Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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