Garden City Idaho, purposefully not Boise

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Photo of Garden City resident Louie Gee delivering produce. Retrieved from on 4/4/2014

Unlike any of the cities neighboring Boise Idaho, Garden City was established specifically to NOT be Boise. Most cities are formally incorporated in a routine fashion; sometime after a number of homes are built, a community begins to form, and neighbors reach a point at which they decide to establish their own city. But when the City of Boise passed a law which prohibited gambling, a few of its residents went across the river outside of the city limits, and created their own city with its own laws. In no time at all several nightclubs, pool halls, and restaurants were built and filled with slot machines. These new business were soon very popular and very busy, mostly filled by Boise’s residents.

Although the area had long been occupied by farmers, most notably the Chinese farmers from whose gardens the town gets its name, at the time of incorporation it was quite undeveloped. Though it is difficult to see, an aerial view of the area from around the time shows the platted streets of Boise to the north and east (right) and the fields of Garden City just southwest of the river (center). The popularity of gambling however, caused the area to change and grow very quickly in just a few short years.

before incorporation. Retrieved from on 4/4/2014

Garden City before incorporation. Retrieved from on 4/4/2014

Although gambling only lasted a short time in Garden City since the state legislature eventually outlawed gambling statewide, it was very successful and generated enough revenue that the city did not have to tax its citizens. For a brief period during the gambling years, the city even became a popular destination for out-of-state tourists looking for some fun. Once gambling was outlawed, however, Garden City lost much of its appeal to tourists along with most of its revenue. Since that time Garden City has been viewed by some Boise residents as a blight on the area and the two jurisdictions have at times had some contentious relations. On a few occasions the topic of disincorporating and being annexed by Boise has been proposed, mostly as a means of dealing with financial woes, but Garden City residents have refused and maintained their city’s unique identity. To its credit, Garden City continues to maintain its distinct characteristic and does not seem to be a mere suburb of Boise. The city, however, seems to be a city in transition as new high-end developments are being built just a few blocks away from run-down and dilapidated properties and as new businesses move in.

As Garden City continues to change, residents, city planners, and city officials today have recognized many of the challenges the city faces as well as some of its unique characteristics. The 2006 comprehensive plan addresses how the arterial highways have created strip development patterns and that the city has no traditional urban core. Despite these setbacks, Garden City’s linear geographical layout offers the advantage, over most of its neighboring cities, of being able to offer its citizens access within just a few blocks to the river, the Greenbelt, and a bus route. And although relations between Boise and Garden City are probably more neighborly now than they have ever been, Garden City is still, purposefully, not Boise.

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About Ryan Strong

Ryan is a graduate student at Boise State University, pursuing a masters degree in public administration and a graduate certificate in community and regional planning. He is also a paralegal for the City of Boise, specializing in land use law.