That view of the Idaho Statehouse and the Boise Foothills as one heads down Capitol Boulevard is breathtaking, but it’s being endangered by poor urban design. Today, the boulevard blossoms with its three iconic structures, the Boise Depot, the Memorial Bridge and the Capitol, all handsomely restored to serve the public.
In preparation for Idaho’s 1990 Centennial, a group of planners, architects, business and agency representatives prepared the Capitol Boulevard Plan and Action Program. Working to restore its grandeur, Boise City Celebration led the planting of 100 trees and retro streetlights with shields honoring Idaho’s 44 counties. Billboards came down and the Capitol Boulevard Special Design District was established to assure appropriate setbacks and signage.
A key element, the boulevard’s pedestrian space, continued to be upgraded with new sidewalk surfaces, street lights, and trees. Likewise, Boise Parks enhanced the green spaces along the boulevard and its parks.
Boise’s Cultural District, one of the boulevard’s best features, provides daily life to the city with events and programs that enlighten us. Soon we will enjoy the expansion of Idaho State Museum with its attractive sandstone exterior. Hotels have replaced motels. Boise’s guests now have two new boulevard hotels with improved set-back tower design.
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An exciting coming addition is BSU’s Center for Fine Arts. It will raise our architectural bar for landmark buildings and be a community meeting place. Another building on the horizon is the boulevard’s state of the arts public library.
But poor design negates these accomplishments. Adjacent to the depot bench, Vista West apartments put its rooftop heat pumps on its flat roof making them visible as one descends the boulevard. This visible rooftop should have been a concern to city’s design review commission. How unfortunate. This could have been a roof garden.
Another recent problem is the Royal Boulevard installation of mast arms with six traffic signals that diminish the views towards the Capitol. Most have only three or four. This is overkill and just feet from the Capitol Boulevard Bridge, an engineering masterpiece on the National Register of Historic Places. Minimizing the negative visual impacts of overhead traffic signals and signs is an important piece of preserving the stunning view that the boulevard provides from the Depot to the Capitol.
The worst disrespect for Boise’s ceremonial entrance is the unattractive screening and blank walls of the new Boise Centre and Gardner Co.’s parking garage facing Grove Street. Why turn your back to Capitol Boulevard and the Basque Block, Boise’s best urban space with its culture, history, eateries and wonderful streetscape, public art, and character? This unappealing facade needs to be redesigned. Capitol’s west sidewalk from Front to Main streets has become a pedestrian and auto/bus conflict zone with its five curb cuts and ramps.
Capitol Boulevard’s vibrant mix of education, government, commerce, culture, and recreation requires ongoing vigilance to maintain its beauty as a world-class gateway. Citizens need to be informed about Boise’s growth and speak up to preserve a quality of life that this livable city offers.
John Bertram served as the project director for the Capitol Boulevard Plan and Action Program prepared for the City of Boise to celebrate Idaho’s 1990 Centennial.