Urban Footprint: Boise vs. The World

As a kind-of extension to last week’s topic, I was playing around with comparing Boise’s urban footprint–that is to say, the amount of physical land that the Boise urban area (including Nampa, Meridian, Caldwell, etc.) has “eaten up” with buildings and development–to other cities across the country and across the world.

I planned to write all kinds of commentary about how density can contribute to livability and blah blah blah but I’ll spare you today. Think of this more as an extension of the Bilbao-Boise comparisons. What I do find quite remarkable is how much less space Helsinki, Zurich, Auckland, Amsterdam, Madrid (oh man, Madrid…) take up in comparison to what I expected… and how frighteningly close Boise is to eating up as much (or in some cases, more) land as these major, global cities.

For each image below, all are set at equal scale. 100 pixels across the Boise image is the same real-life physical distance as 100 pixels across, for example, the Madrid image. Also, all population figures are from respective authority Census data on urban area, not city limit population, using either 2013 estimates, or previous year counts. No population estimates are older than 2010.

As you look through, imagine in your mind the environmental, sociological and economic impacts that might be created by the way our cities are spread out. The time it takes to get to work, the time it takes for police services to arrive, or the time required to get to the nearest hospital. Imagine all the acres of landscaping for all the homes and offices filling in the urbanized areas. The countless gallons of water spent; the endless hours worked and toiled to keep the landscaping fresh, trimmed, and green. Think about meeting friends across town and how the term “across town” can take new meaning from city to city. Think of all the oil burned, the exhaust emitted from fueling the tens of thousands of cars and trucks coming and going, here to there…

Let’s get started!

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Similar Domestic Cities:

US Cities that are similar to Boise in population right now, or examples of where Boise might be 5-10 years from now…

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Spokane, Washington (679,989):


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Fresno, California (955,272):


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Albuquerque, New Mexico (902,797):


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Omaha, Nebraska (895,191):


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Similar World Cities:

A few cities across the world that are similar in population to Boise.

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Bristol, United Kingdom (617,280):


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Canberra, Australia (381,488):


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João Pessoa, Brazil (742,478):


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Larger “Most-Livable” World Cities:

“Most-Livable” meaning cities that are frequently regarded as being among the cities with the highest quality of life for its citizens by organizations and studies such as the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, EIU Livability Index, and Monocle’s Quality of Life Survey. After all, the City of Boise’s slogan is “Our Vision: To Make Boise the Most Livable City in the Country.” We’re big on livability, so it seems fitting that we could look to what’s happening in some of these cities for ideas in improving our own.

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Helsinki, Finland (1,159,000):


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Zurich, Switzerland (1,143,000):


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Vienna, Austria (1,766,746):


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Auckland, New Zealand (1,418,272):


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Amsterdam, Netherlands (1,571,234):


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Just for Fun:

I’m not making any claim to relevance, but just thought these comparisons were utterly fascinating.

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Phoenix, Arizona (4,263,488):


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Madrid, Spain (6,369,162):


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Portland, Oregon (4,263,488):


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Boston, Massachusetts (4,590,000):


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Mexico City, Mexico (20,032,000):

4-mex-boisetopia– –

Amazing! I could do this all day! All week, even!

What are your thoughts? I’ll save mine for later, or maybe the comments section, I want to hear from YOU!

If you’d like to see any other cities compared, just put in a request in the comments section and I’ll be happy to oblige!

9 thoughts on “Urban Footprint: Boise vs. The World

  1. City of Trees

    The one natural factor that Boise proper, at least, has to force density is the Foothills. Growing to the north and northeast has historically been a non-starter. Seeing all these maps is making me try to think of a city that has a similar geographic barrier to sprawl (a coastline would be the most obvious) to use as a comparison. Any good thoughts?

    Also, the first additional metro that came to my mind to compare was DFW. Whether we like it or not, there’s a good chance that this metro could grow a similar way: Boise/Dallas, Nampa-Caldwell/Fort Worth, & Meridian/Arlington.

  2. Anonymous

    Great work! Very interesting stuff! Although, I think your population for Portland is quite high, and Boise’s metro is larger than Spokane’s.

    1. Alex

      I think with the Spokane metro he’s taking Coeur d’Alene into account. If you take CDA and the surrounding areas in pot the Spokane pop figures, the Spokane metro may be higher. Though, I’m not sure that’s right to count as part of Spokane.

        1. Anthony Harding Post author

          Indeed, per US Census Boise’s MSA is larger than Spokane’s MSA, and Boise’s CSA is larger than Spokane’s CSA.

          For the purposes of the map I compared Spokane’s CSA which includes Coeur D’Alene with Boise’s MSA. Reason for this was the Spokane map covered all of Spokane’s CSA, so listing an MSA population wouldn’t be fair. The Boise map did not include Ontario and Mountain Home which is a part of the CSA, so listing CSA population wouldn’t be fair either.

  3. Alex

    One of the things that strikes me when I look at these images is how much land cities such as Portland, Madrid, Auckland, Boston, etc have set aside as green space. There are so many parks in those cities, whereas boise has developed SO MANY AREAS without developing green space. I’m thinking all of the southwest areas near the Edwards 22 theater complex: you couldn’t easily walk from there to a nice park. Or the mall area, not many parks nearby. I know that developing parks has been an initiative of the mayor’s office recently, but it’s such a wise investment, I’d like to see more emphasis on preserving green space.

    Other than that thought, I’d also point out that, unfortunately, is the city that looks most like where our future is headed – if we don’t put any thought into how we develop as a city – is Phoenix. Sprawl and eventually an overextension of our resources. I’d love to see boise and the surrounding areas work on more thoughtful development.

    Good stuff, Anthony!

  4. Regal Spokane Valley 12

    Oh, thanks so much for posting this! It’s going to help when I am thinking about going to Regal Spokane Valley 12 in Spokane! I am from Warrington, PA so I am not familiar with Spokane. Next time I see my family will be much better! Super Rad!

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