During his time on City Council and as Mayor of Boise, Richard Eardley knew there were several challenges that had to be met in the city. When he arrived in Boise the population was 30,000 and then the city quickly grew to 75,000, and by the end of Eardly’s time as Mayor in 1985, there were 125,000 people living in Boise proper. It was a growing city that needed a plan for smart growth in order to really flourish.
Richard Eardley began his career in newspaper at a young age; something he discovered in Baker, California as he worked several odd jobs while he finished high school, and then part-time at the weekly paper. In Boise, he found work as a news director at KBKR radio station and he was hired later as a writer at the Statesman, and then accepted a job at KBOI radio and TV. Eardley worked in print, radio, and television media for twenty-three years before he ran for City Council in the 1970s. During those years the growing city was fighting political battles over annexation, taxes, sewers, and parking meters.
One of the City’s goals was to develop downtown, saving it from urban decay. In the 1970s there were visible signs of suburban flight; the negative pressure of suburban sprawl had manifested in downtown Boise as empty lots, crumbling sidewalks, and congestion took over. But the works undertaken under the banner of urban renewal are not, for the most part, popularly remembered in these parts. The truth is that in Boise those words have the ability to stir up some unpleasant emotions, and we are presciently aware of what we lost to urban renewal in downtown. Today, however, we would like to take a more complete look at the achievements of Richard Eardley when he served as Mayor.
In 2009, in a personal interview with the Boise City Department of Arts & History’s Historian, Brandi Burns, Eardley spoke of his and the city council’s vision for Downtown Boise, and how from the beginning the public was on-board. Reflecting on urban renewal, Eardley said in his interview, “we had a chance to be different, Boise did, and today we’ve got a lively downtown.” In the 1970s the city started tearing down buildings to meet construction deadlines, but as time passed and retailers failed to sign on as the city had intended, the plans faltered and the public’s support soured. Much of the public record is one of derision, a seemingly one-sided story, pointing the finger at City failures. Eardley remarked that not being able to get the whole story out was a contributing factor in the failure of urban renewal. Setting urban renewal aside, the North End revitalization project, as well as the establishment of an Arts Commission, a Parks Commission, the Greenbelt Commission, and even a movement to clean up the Boise River were all accomplished and funded under the mayoral terms that Eardley served.
However unfortunate urban renewal was to the downtown for the historically minded everywhere, we can certainly be thankful for Mayor Eardley’s attention to the North End. Urban Renewal programs used federal money to give qualified homeowners in the decaying North End access to grants and low-interest loans in order to improve their property. He says the program, though it preserved the neighborhoods in an historic fashion, was not at all historically motivated. He said they were “just trying to help people help themselves. And that’s what happened.” The North End beautification projects have indeed given it its “exclusive” and historical character, but Eardley reflected that at the time their goal was simply just “to keep the North End alive.”
Eardley also helped to beautify Boise through the Arts Commission, created in 1978. The goal was to bring an arts program to downtown Boise by encouraging artists to create public works of art. Today that program has grown into something the Department of Arts and History is quite proud of; the city’s public arts and history initiatives help make Boise a thriving and unique place to live and visit.
Eardley was also interested in creating a clean and inviting environment in Boise. Eardley and the Council instigated the Parks Commission, which was responsible for building twelve new parks during the years Eardley served as mayor. During this time they also made the first purchase of riverside property using imminent domain to begin work on the Greenbelt. Along with the Greenbelt initiative came a movement to clean up Idaho’s rivers. In his interview Eardley reminisced about the poor state of the Boise River, and how it changed into an asset as the city committed itself to cleaning it up and keeping it safe.
Eardley was the longest serving Mayor in Boise’s history and his interview is archived at the Boise City Department of Arts & History. Please enjoy the short clips below from the interview and join us in honoring the memory of former Mayor Eardley.
Election Clip – Eardley shares how he decided to run for Mayor.
Story of Urban Renewal – Eardley shares how urban renewal was started in Boise.
Reflection on Urban Renewal – Eardley reflects on his feelings regarding urban renewal.
Oktoberfest -Eardley shares a funny story about how long-range planning took a backseat to the beginning of Oktoberfest in Boise.