For all that a lot of people in Idaho like to see themselves as rural, outdoorsy folk, and for all that their governor likes to present himself as a cowboy out of the old West, the face of the people of Idaho is becoming something rather different.
What that is was brought home by a statistic about the city of Meridian that even some of the people of Meridian didn't at first believe.
Meridian's mayor, Tammy de Weerd, wrote an article describing her city as the second largest in Idaho. The local newspaper, thinking she must have erred, deleted the reference. That couldn't be right – could it? I remember driving through Meridian back in the mid-70s when it was a little dairy town of 4,000 or so people. It's still hard for me to wrap around the idea of the mellow-yellow-water-tower-town as a dynamo with 20 times as many people. It's probably hard for a lot of long-time residents to grasp. But so it is.
Then the newspaper double-checked, and it found her seemingly odd factoid actually had solid support: The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, which among other things develops a good deal of demographic and economic planning data in the area, has estimated Meridian's population for this year at 85,240, for the first time pulling ahead of Nampa (84,840) and trailing only Boise (217,730) in the region – and for that matter, in Idaho. The next largest cities (Idaho Falls and Pocatello) are tens of thousands of people smaller.
The Ada-Canyon population now is estimated by COMPASS at 620,080, almost 40,000 more than at the last, 2010, census. To put that in perspective: The average population size of a U.S. House district is a little over 700,000, so Ada-Canyon is coming nearly large enough to form one by itself. If it keeps growing as it has, by 2020 it might be about large enough.
Farms and ranches still can be found in the Ada-Canyon area (as the governor, living on one, would be quick to point out), but the area no longer is defined by or, broadly, has much connection with them. The Boise-Eagle-Meridian-Nampa-Caldwell area is defined these days by suburbs, tracts a lot like what you'd see in most of Phoenix or Provo or Bend or Lancaster. Probably a half-million of the people in Ada-Canyon live in what could be at least loosely described as a suburban area.
That's close to a third of the population of Idaho; and it is far from all of the state's suburbanites. You'll find another large congregation of them in Kootenai county, especially west and north of Coeur d'Alene. Kootenai's population now is upwards of 142,000 people, and close to 100,000 of those people live outside the city of Coeur d'Alene, most of them in the massive suburban areas around Post Falls and Rathdrum and Hayden.
Idaho has a lot of other, smaller, suburban-type areas too; you can find them around nearly all of the state's larger population centers.
The effect of this is that more than half of all Idahoans are, for practical purposes, suburbanites. Increasingly, that is where the people are, and that forms the central definition of their physical world. And it is to suburban people, not rural people, that Idaho politicians increasingly are going to have to appeal.