A Sustainable Boise 

'It's part of our city's marrow'

Boise City Councilwoman Lauren McLean (left): "This is how we'll prepare for the next 150 years." Sara Arkle, community conservation associate with ICL (right): "We're talking about creating a roadmap."

Patrick Sweeney

Boise City Councilwoman Lauren McLean (left): "This is how we'll prepare for the next 150 years." Sara Arkle, community conservation associate with ICL (right): "We're talking about creating a roadmap."

Lauren McLean fills notebooks the way others fill gas tanks. The difference is that the Boise City Council member uses what appears to be an inexhaustible collection of quotes, statistics and thoughts to fuel ideas, conversations and, on occasion, public policy or practice. Quite appropriately, her most recent volume relates to sustainability.

"This?" McLean pointed to an already dog-eared notebook. "This is my latest. I started this one on April 30."

Years from now, McLean and her City Hall colleagues may look back on April 30 as a critical crossroads on the path to making Boise more sustainable.

Boise Weekly has learned that on that date, McLean and every other member of the Boise City Council sat down with Mayor Dave Bieter, officials from city departments of economic development and public works, and representatives from the Idaho Conservation League and the Conservation Voters for Idaho to create a new system of measuring sustainability. And if more than one elected official has his or her own way, that would include the creation of a new city office of sustainability.

Bieter told BW that his administration is channeling more efforts "to integrate sustainability into everything we do as a city."

"Sustainability is part of our city's marrow," said Bieter. "It's at the core of our efforts to make Boise the most livable city in the country."

But Boise simply calling itself "the most livable" city in the nation is more than a warm-and-fuzzy moniker destined for chamber of commerce brochures. Instead, McLean said, livability--and sustainability--is key to economic resilience.

"It's a big piece of the puzzle," said McLean. "Being the most livable city means having a strong economy with equal opportunity for everyone. It's about having a place where we love to live, clean air and a clean river, walking the hills with our families, and building strong neighborhoods."

And that vision for Boise, McLean added, needs to include strong stewardship to protect the city's resources while ensuring efficient use of tax dollars.

"We're talking about a Boise that focuses on protection of our pristine and unique environment while saving money through strategic thinking about our energy decisions," she said. "Equally important is that the city of Boise should be providing its citizens with the tools to do the same. And when we remind ourselves what a great place this is to live, we're telling the world the same and it ultimately impacts our ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest."

The city of Boise, primarily through its Public Works Department, has already instituted or proposed dozens of sustainability initiatives, including conversion of nearly 2,100 streetlights to LED technology, saving $65,000 annually; retrofitting public buildings with low-flow or automatic water fixtures; introducing solar technology to trigger an irrigation controller in Ann Morrison Park; implementing an anti-idling program; and, perhaps most successfully, initiating Curb It, the city's curbside recycling program.

McLean envisions a permanent city department or office that would serve as an administrative umbrella for sustainability efforts, which cross over into almost every current department at City Hall.

"I'd like to see an office of sustainability that integrates the community, the economy and the environment, something that works with all the existing departments," she said.

McLean was quick to point out that other cities--including Austin, Baltimore, Seattle and even Hailey, Idaho--have created offices of sustainability.

"I'm a big fan of the plan that Baltimore implemented," said McLean, who added that a city plan--with tangible benchmarks on sustainability--was more important than the creation of a new office.

"We can talk about all the ideas in the world, but unless we have a plan that we can measure up against, we can't really prove that there has been any progress," said McLean.

That's music to the ears of Sara Arkle, community conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League.

"Absolutely; we're talking about creating a roadmap," said Arkle. "Lauren and I have been talking about this for years, but now we're talking about taking this to another level."

Arkle said the biggest--and most pleasant--surprise was how energetically the city's elected officials engaged on the issue at the April 30 meeting.

"At the beginning of the meeting, the question was posed to everyone: 'What does sustainability mean to each of you, and how does that interface with Boise's current theme of livability?' Everyone talked about commitment, respect and collaboration and how each of those are all a part of the city's definition of livability. But when Councilman David Eberle said, 'I think the only missing thing in that equation right now is the environment,' everybody nodded and then they really dove into the issue."

Bieter told BW that he's more than ready.

"I'm looking forward to expanding our efforts to take Boise's sustainability profile to an even higher level," he said.

And Arkle said ICL will help gather public comment on the effort. As BW was going to press, ICL was launching a special website--idahoconservation.org/keepboisegreat--that will send public input to the mayor and City Council.

The timing couldn't be better, said McLean.

"This is our sesquicentennial year and we're spending the year talking about our history. So, it's a perfect time to start talking about our future," she said. "I've already expressed my desire to see this start to move this summer and into this fall; by the end of this year, we can say, 'We had a great 150 years, but this is how we'll prepare for the next 150.'"

McLean has already pulled out more than a few of her already-full notebooks to help collect ideas.

"I used to be anxious about this, but now I'm confident that we're really moving forward," she said. "I think we're hearing, loud and clear, from the Council and mayor that now is the time."

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