Born in Boise: reflecting on changes in the City of Trees

Photo of Keenan Roark, courtesy of Keenan Roark.

Keenan Roark, a sophomore and double major in philosophy and theater, is a fifth-generation Idahoan, as his family has inhabited Boise since the 1800s.

Growing up in the historic North End of the city, Roark graduated from Boise High School in 2020 amidst the initial COVID-19 outbreak and sudden influx of growth within the city.

Because of his first-hand experience and longevity within Boise’s culture, Roark has much to say about its ever-changing ways. 

When asked about Boise’s rapid growth, Roark believes it’s a sticky situation. 

“It’s just so hard to put the situation in black and white because there’s many factors involved in the [city’s] growth,” Roark said.

Reflecting back onto his childhood and the lush landscapes of the historic North End, Roark began to question when the growth actually began.

“Plenty of the growth probably started when I was young. But I think I noticed it in middle school when I could start going downtown on my own, especially when I started having access to driving and more exposure to the city,” Roark said.

Because of the unexpected growth within the city, many Boise locals confronted newcomers with extreme backlash, targeting Californians specifically. 

When asked his stance on the hostility, Roark weighed the positives and negatives. 

“I definitely have some mixed feelings about it. There’s always the classic ‘Californinans go home’ which I think is a little harsh because, you know, everyone’s just looking for a place to live,” Roark said. “It is a really nice place so it does make sense why so many people want to come here. If nothing else, I just think that Californians need to learn how to use roundabouts.”

Turning to a more serious outlook on the growth, especially from the western states, Roark explained it’s more than just the environment, but emerging inequality within the classes.

“I think a lot of it comes back to class issues because it’s just a lot of rich people coming from California to retire and/or are looking to get away from the very liberal environment and set up shop elsewhere,” Roark said. “So, again, I think that leads to a lot of displacement of local culture and community and replaced by [older] Californians with a stupid amount of money which is very classist and I’m not a big fan of. But of course you have the people who are just looking to move somewhere else and humans often do.”

Californians make up 46% of Boise’s growth in the last 5 years, and Californian migration has increased by 10% within the last five to 10 years. 

“Many native Idahoans have watched their state transform and change over the years; however, some fear the Gem State is on its way to becoming the next California,” according to the Boise Valley Economic Partnership.

Roark was adamant about the saddening culture shifts within Boise’s ethos. He explained that seeing the culture change and adapt has been detrimental, especially in losing Boise’s truly historic nature. 

“It’s very sad to see that historical culture lost to people with more money who are able to take advantage of the situation. So, I suspect my family probably won’t be in Boise that much longer,” Roark said. 

An overwhelming disappointment from many Boise locals comes from the extensive building and destruction of the Boise foothills and local wildlife.  

“There used to be trails and hills out in the East End area which are now popping up huge neighborhoods with all the houses kind of looking the same,” Roark said.

Boise’s development proposals have reached a new precedent as developers plan to build multiple high rises. Developers propose the construction of three of the tallest buildings Boise has seen to date. The proposals include 18, 19 and even 27-story apartments. 

Roark not only focused on the culture shifts but the overall economic and structural changes Boise has begun to endure. 

“With more people coming in there’s a sort of an adjustment in wages and the housing market especially. My parent’s house has matured a couple hundred thousand dollars since they bought it in the 90’s,” Roark said.

The Idaho Press stated that Boise’s housing market has increased by nearly 40% since November 2020 which puts Boise in the top two highest housing markets in the U.S. 

Roark explains that Boise may not be able to keep up with all the infrastructure changes especially in managing the growth. 

“I don’t know if Boise can totally keep up with the growth which has led to a lot of displacement, like people selling their houses in historic neighborhoods like the North End,” Roark said.

Families aren’t the only ones moving to the Treasure Valley. Northern and southern Californian businesses have found a new home as well.

“The influx of people from California and some of the other western states just naturally leads to growth in buildings, perpetual construction downtown and the likes. There’s a lot more traffic and the feeling of Boise slowly becoming a bigger city,” Roark said.

However, Roark also mentioned that the new perspectives newcomers bring can be refreshing.

Touching on the housing market and direct effects towards himself, Roark explained it has only fueled his desire to leave the area

“I intend not to stay here after I get my degree,” Roark said. “It’s kind of interesting though. Because my family has such a rich culture here, that even if I did stay here the moment that I get out of college, there’s no way I’m going to be able to afford most houses, let alone rentals. If I did stay here, I would be pretty far away from the city. It’d be very different from the place I grew up.” 

Currently residing in off campus housing, Roark explained the ever increasing rent situation. 

“After my roommates and I put in our applications at River Edge [apartments], the rent went up by $100 a month which we’re still paying actively,” Roark said.

Because Roark not only witnessed but experienced many of Boise’s changes first hand, his knowledge of his home town has only grown.

“It’s definitely changing into a different city. It’s just if we can make that for the better or worse in the long run,” Roark said. “I think the growth is ultimately fine, we just need to be ready to accommodate for [it], and at least as of right now I’m not entirely sure that’s the case.”

Photo of Keenan Roark, courtesy of Keenan Roark.

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