(CN) — Boise has always commanded a somewhat unique reputation among the denizens of the Gem State. Serving as both Idaho’s capital and most populous city, Boise has long provided the closest thing to a big-city experience in an otherwise largely rural state, and yet still seems to carry many of the trappings that come with rural living.
It’s a place where a vibrant downtown packed with fusion restaurants and novelty shops seems only a stone’s throw away from cattle crossings and horse trails. Where ornately graffitied and tourist-trekked alleyways — the most famous of which has been dubbed Freak Alley by locals — are surrounded by foothills and hot springs. And where hippies and oddballs rub elbows with ranchers and cowboys on a regular basis.
It’s also something of an outsider in its own backyard. Like many larger cities in rural areas, Boise has a reputation for being a more liberal, Democratic hub in an otherwise overwhelming conservative state, a large blue dot in a sea of reliably red territory.
But look around Boise long enough and talk with those who have called the city home for decades, and it becomes apparent that Boise is not the same creature it once was. Traffic and backed-up commutes have become more common, commercial construction and residential development projects seem never-ending and city streets have become more crowded by the day.
These changes can all be traced to the simple fact that Boise is — and has been for some time — a city mid-metamorphosis, one that is growing at an almost shocking rate. And for many, grappling with that reality has been a challenge.
For many residents, these changes are chalked up to something locals love to discuss at length: the great migration of Californians and other coastal-state residents to the city.
Brenda Sick, a general manager at the G. Willikers toy shop in downtown Boise, says she encounters customers on a regular basis who hail from out of state, many of whom are reluctant to admit their newcomer status.
“I talk to people in the store all the time who have moved in here from out-of-state and they are almost embarrassed to say that they’re from places like California. But almost all of them will say things like, ‘We don’t like it there and we want something like this, because it fits us,’ and I see that. I see people are moving here because they want to be here. They don’t want to deal with some of the craziness of other places.”
These perceptions seem, at least to a point, to be supported by Boise’s population data shifts. Forbes Magazine listed Boise as the fastest growing city in the country in 2018 and the 2020 Census data echoed that sentiment, also giving Boise the top-spot on the list. And according to the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, nearly half of all migration to the Boise area has been made up of Californians.
This influx of out-of-towners has proven to be an easy target for many Boise locals who think it has grown into a city they no longer recognize, but others say these changes require a lot more context and cannot be so squarely placed at the feet of folks from the coast.
Brandi Burns, the History Programs Manager for Boise’s Department of Arts & History, says one of the first thing to remember regarding Boise’s new surge of residents is that if you trace the city's history back far enough, most of us inevitably had to come from somewhere else.
“Put yourself in their shoes. If you didn’t have some of these opportunities, this is a nice place to be. Remember that everyone who lives here now, even if they’ve been a lifelong resident, somebody moved to get them here. The only ones who have always been here are the Indigenous people. Everybody else is a transplant.”