Do you read The Atlantic Cities? If you’re at all interested in issues surrounding cities, development, or sustainable living (or a bunch of other things) I’d highly recommend it. For me at least, the only downside is that they don’t have enough content for me to read it all day.
Anyway, I recently read an article about the best and worst public squares in the world. (To my own surprise, I discovered I’ve actually been to a bunch the squares listed). The article got me thinking about Provo’s public squares, which is an issue I’ve been interested in and concerned about for some time.
Provo does have some public space. The area outside the county buildings — on the south side of east Center Street — is used for community events. And when it’s not being used, it’s actually a pretty pleasant area, with benches and big trees. At the other end of Center Street, there’s also Pioneer Park, where the farmer’s market takes place for much of the year.
I visit both of these areas regularly, but I don’t think they actually serve as good public squares. The density surrounding them is low, they’re ringed by streets (fairly huge streets on some sides), and they don’t have a lot of mixed-use real estate around them. Moreover, there isn’t really any reason for people to congregate in these places. There are no real “tourist” attractions (either for locals or visitors), and they aren’t heavily used by pedestrians traveling to specific destinations. Plus, they’re open, exposed, and not great to look at — which is the opposite of the more successful public squares in the article above.
Provo needs a central gathering point. It needs a public square. I’m hopeful that the new Tabernacle/NuSkin project will solve this problem. However, I’ve seen the images of NuSkin’s project and I’m not optimistic. While I think it will create pleasant areas in downtown, those area also won’t necessarily exhibit some of the more important public square attributes. That means its up to the LDS church and the Tabernacle Temple.
Or, it’s up to the city. There’s ample space downtown. The city could build on the NuSkin/Tabernacle plan — actively working not just to revitalize, but to create a public square as well — or choose another spot altogether. But either way, this is one issue that would make a huge difference in the city.