Daybreak is a charming community. Looking back over the pictures in my last post, I was surprised to see that it actually looks even more charming than I remember it. But in any case, Daybreak offers many lessons for Provo. I could write about this topic for hours, but its late as I’m writing this so below are just a few of the pros and cons that stand out.
1. Daybreak really does have attractive buildings. I’m not sure how well they’ll age — many appear to be constructed out of fairly flimsy and cheap materials — but the developers deserve kudos for not building the same, beige tract homes that sprawled through communities during the later part of the 20th century.
2. Daybreak has higher density than the typical suburb. The houses are closer together and there are more apartments. Density obviously puts more people in a smaller area, reducing the cost to maintain infrastructure, bolstering street life, providing more potential customers for local businesses, etc.
These tightly packed houses, along with the emphasis on aesthetics, are probably the biggest lessons Provo can take from Daybreak, in my opinion. In other words, it’s possible to squeeze attractive new development into the nooks and crannies of existing neighborhoods.
3. Daybreak is still a car town, but it’s slightly less of one than other suburbs. The garages aren’t the most prominent feature of the homes, for example. The development also is linked to Salt Lake City via TRAX. In the end this may be little more than a veneer because Daybreak residents still have to use a car to do any substantive errands — a reality that seems unlikely to change anytime soon — but it certainly makes the neighborhoods more attractive and a bit greener.
1. As I mentioned in the last post, Daybreak appears to have botched the idea of mixed use development. In Provo, residents of the large downtown neighborhoods can walk to restaurants, entertainment venues, grocery stores and numerous shops. Those businesses arose over time, of course, but the key was that the space for them already existed. And in Provo, neighborhoods are only marginally mixed use. In really great mixed use neighborhoods, people might live above restaurants, next door to offices, and around the corner from the local grocery store.
By contrast, Daybreak’s developers have already erected entire single-use neighborhoods. There’s plenty of space in Daybreak for expansion and I hope time improves the area, but as things are currently going it doesn’t look like most residents will ever be able to walk to any restaurants, let alone 35 as people in my neighborhood currently can. The point is that walkable communities are good — economically, health-wise, etc. — but at best Daybreak appears only have walkable sections that need to be accessed by car.
The dearth of mixed use development seems to be a big failure and what makes it seem most like any other suburb. There’s still time to salvage the problem and I hope to be proven wrong, but the existing layout doesn’t offer much hope.
2. Daybreak seems to show that density can be trumped by diversity in some cases. The development’s big apartment neighborhoods seem to be higher density than my neighborhood of small apartments and old homes (many of which have basement rentals). The single family home sections seem to be lower density. There are various Daybreak neighborhoods that fall somewhere in the middle.
But in every kind of Daybreak neighborhood, there were fewer people out on the street than I typically see in central Provo, or similarly old neighborhoods in other cities. There are many reasons for this, but I think that one part of it is that older neighborhoods have a fine-grained mix of housing types; there are rentals, single family homes, condos, etc., plus occasionally offices and retail.
The result is that older neighborhoods mix different kinds of people, who happen to have different schedules and interests. Young families go on walks in the evening, students late at night, older couples in the morning, etc. All of this creates an exciting vibrant neighborhood, but also increases safety and offers support to area businesses. As a comment pointed out in my last post, I may have simply missed some of the mixed density development. But either way, there weren’t many people out anywhere, and I never saw a home next to (or above) a store.
3. It’s hard to hold Daybreak’s newness against it, but at least right now it seems to be taking its cues from the suburbs, not medium-sized urban cores. This is particularly evident in the building patterns that have focused, bafflingly, on the outer regions of the development rather than the core. It’d be like if Provo built the Tree Streets and Indian Hills before the Maeser and Joaquin Neighborhoods.
4. Planned communities can feel alienating. I mentioned this in my post on Brasilia, but Daybreak has a particular kind of Stepford Wives sterility; it looks fabulous in pictures, but there’s just not a lot going on. I realize this will change over time (though homeowner’s associations will slow that process down), but if these buildings were interspersed into older neighborhoods they wouldn’t feel alienating at all. The problem, then, is architectural homogeneity, which isn’t going to change until property owners start remodeling their homes and eventually tearing them down and building other structures. I can’t imagine that process really beginning in earnest during my life time.
Daybreak is a lot less homogenous than slightly older suburbs, but the reality is that when entire subdivisions are built at once by the same developers there’s a kind of inherent, temporal homogeneity that can’t be escaped. Buildings may be different colors or have different facades, but they’re still visually unified and will age similarly. (Daybreak’s saving grace, in this regard, is that it’s going to take them a long time to build, so at least large sections will vary in age.)
4. The root of these problems seems to be that the entire community is master planned. Cities like Provo were also the result of plans way back in the 1800s, but the actual buildings grew up haphazardly and without an authoritarian vision. The result is something closer to the architectural diversity Jane Jacobs praised in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Daybreak may also have that kind of diversity someday, but it will take a long time and future builders will have to overcome a landscape already dominated by a single vision.
I think Daybreak offers a great example for small scale development in Provo. If it was overlaid, as infill, onto the wasted space of existing communities, it’d be great.
However, the development also seems to demonstrate why big, powerful developers aren’t always the way to go: the results can be soulless, and more importantly can fail to be adequately walkable, bikeable, or economically sustainable. Daybreak is admittedly very new and with time will likely only get better. Issues like vacant blocks will disappear entirely in the near future.
But I chose to live in Provo’s Joaquin neighborhood precisely because it isn’t like Daybreak. I believe that sprawl itself is a problem, and on top of that Daybreak seems to have incorporated many of the problems — lack of walkability, car-oriented development, insufficient density in some areas, oversized streets — that I’d like to see corrected in Provo neighborhoods, including my own.