‘We’re So Uncool It’s Hip’


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Dream Towns

‘We’re So Uncool It’s Hip’
A columnist for the Idaho Falls Post Register takes issue with Mike Steere’s article

By Rocky Barker

So Idaho Falls is one of Outside magazine’s “dream towns.”

Oh please!

The journal of Lycra-clad-yuppified-Power-Bar-chomping America says we are the place to be. What did we do wrong?

We tried to be as boring as possible. For years nightlife consisted of watching Navy boys try to pick up Bonneville High School graduates at left-over discos like The Mill. Maybe an early breakfast of people-watching at the North Highway Cafe.

But now we can catch a Boise blues band at Shoup’s. Maybe the Austin Lounge Lizards or Kip Attaway at the Stardust or Danny Glover at the Civic Auditorium. Outside specifically noted the opening of Lost Arts Brew and Bread.

You get a few espresso joints, the bars start serving brew pub beers and the place goes to Hell. We become near perfect.

Don’t try to prove to these people we’re hicks. They don’t want to hear it. It doesn’t matter. We’re so uncool it’s hip. We’re the Anti-Aspen. But at least they can find a Hefewiezen beer or a latte.

The real problem with our fair city getting this distinction is that people may actually believe it and move here.

I’m not one of those close-the-door-because-I’ve-got-mine-types. I even wrote an article for Outside once. But are the readers of Outside the kind of people who can find happiness, sink roots, and add to the community of Idaho Falls?

Patrick Jobes, a Montana State University Sociologist has been studying newcomers to Gallatin County, Montana and Bozeman for 20 years. He also has looked at other popular “New West” growth centers like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Aspen, Colo. Boulder, Colo. and Moab Utah. These are places Outside has touted in the past as great places to live.

Jobes found that 80 percent of the newcomers to the Gallatin Valley moved away within 10 years. “Residents in particularly visible tourist towns, like Aspen and West Yellowstone, were even more migratory.”

These New West migrants are doomed to remain forever newcomers, roaming from town to town looking for the perfect home. Or at least the near-perfect home.

Once they arrive in the latest nirvana they find it isn’t the “dream town” they were led to believe. To his credit, author Mike Steere describes Idaho Falls accurately as a place not for the young or mateless. He also cheerfully extolls the fishing, skiing, river-running, and hiking opportunities close by. Throw in the low-cost housing, (he even suggests they pick the
numbered streets) the town-full of Ph.Ds and you’ve got a near-perfect picture of what the urban refugee is seeking.

What he failed to tell them is that 212 days out of the year the temperature is either hotter than 90 degrees or below freezing. Some days it’s both.

Sometimes it can take 20 minutes to drive down 17th Street. Did I leave out nuclear waste?

Don’t worry, the perpetual newcomers will find out the truth eventually. then they will move on to the next “dream town” down the road. It might be Pocatello, Las Cruces, N.M., or God forbid, Butte, Mont.

They won’t get involved in the community except to keep their taxes low. They’ll become less inclined to commune with nature and more supportive of growth to create more jobs to bring more people who will all want more growth and then will move on.

If the experience of Bozeman is any indication, the higher growth also will mean more poverty, not less. The number of people below the official poverty line in Bozeman jumped from 9.5 percent in 1980 to 25.2 percent in 1990, Jobes said.

I admit to the joy of drinking a pint of Widmer Bock beer in Lost Arts. Sipping a cup of French Roast and munching on a decent bagel with cream cheese at the Half Moon, or listening to Clay Morgan read from his books at Books and Co. These have made my life here a lot more pleasurable.

But let’s not turn this place into Bozeman. We want people to move here that are going to stay and commit themselves to this place. We need neighbors not numbers.

If 10 years from now Outside magazine returns and can still say Idaho Falls “feels like a muddy farm town,” then we know we have succeeded.

Rocky Barker is the Idaho Falls Post Register’s correspondent-at-large. He also is author of the book, Saving All the Parts, Reconciling Economics and the Endangered Species Act published by Island Press. E-mail address:

Copyright 1995 by Rocky Barker.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.