Touring around southern Idaho last week, I wandered through places I hadn’t visited in a while to check on their progress. For better or worse, I didn’t observe a lot of surprises.
Until I got to downtown Twin Falls, and it gave me pause for thought.
For some years, mainly in the years before and after the turn of the century, I made my way regularly to Twin, mainly for watching updates in the Snake River water adjudication. The city itself I noticed in passing as not changing enormously, other than gradually expanding commerce along Blue Lakes Boulevard - the northern entryway into town from the Snake River Canyon - and along a few of the commercial arterials along it.
Twin Falls never seemed to decline or stagnate, and it never seemed less than at least reasonably prosperous. But for much of the time I watched it, it didn’t seem to change a lot either. It didn’t develop or change, at least from what I could see on the surface. You could see some of this in the population stats for much of the twentieth century. Twin’s population in 1960 was 20,126; in 1990 it was 27,591, a reasonable increase but nothing earth-shattering.
Now - as of 2020 - three decades on, the population has abruptly exploded, to 51,807: It is, roughly, twice the city I generally was accustomed to years ago.
I hadn’t stopped by for some years but last month I stopped in downtown for a coffee visit, and exited my car in what seemed like a city that hadn’t existed not so long before.
Downtown in Twin was years ago pleasant but low-key and a little old-fashioned, and areas along its periphery were starting to go quiet or even vacant. No more. It’s now packed with new businesses - and older ones that have upgraded. Downtown is loaded with new restaurants, shopping and more. There’s new downtown residential development, in part to service the corporations that have been developing offices nearby. There’s a large, open civic area, home now to various civic events, overseen by a great statue of one of the area’s pioneers.
City hall, rebuilt out of an old department store building, has - without being extravagant - become one of the most innovative and even flashy public buildings anywhere in the state.
Twin Falls still has issues, of course. Currently, many of those - stresses of traffic, resources, and within the lives of people - seem to be issues growing out of rapid growth. It also has found some advantages it is trying to exploit.
Some of where this growth came from is clear enough. In the last generation, population centers within regions have typically come at the expense of the region’s smaller communities, or rural areas. (The Magic Valley minus Twin Falls County - but including Elmore County - grew in population by 37.7 percent from 1990 to 2020, while Twin Falls County grew by 66.4 percent). Changes in agribusiness, in dairy and other products, have helped, as have good roadway networks; much of this in the Magic Valley has become increasingly centralized around Twin Falls. Local civic advocates would point out other advantages as well.
Where all this goes is another question. Does Twin Falls become an urban center in a way it hasn’t to now - maybe beyond what Idaho Falls and Pocatello do in their regions, more like what Boise is becoming in the context of Idaho overall? Hang around the downtown and you might start to think so. Consider this idea: The nature of Twin Falls is breaking away from, growing apart from, the nature of the Magic Valley around it.
Twin Falls, its ongoing struggle with air transportation notwithstanding, is becoming more diverse and even more cosmopolitan. It may become a different kind of creature in the years ahead. As such, it could become something of a template for other Idaho
No place ever stays the same forever. Twin Falls once seemed as if it might. It doesn’t seem so now.