Monthly Archives: December 2011

Christmas lights and music in downtown

Heres something I want to finally do this year: check out the Christmas lights and radio music at the city center. I see the lights almost every day, but I’ve never actually gone by in my car and tuned in to 99.9 FM to hear the music they’re apparently synced to. I hope this experience is awesome.

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Filed under Downtown, Provo

The Retail King

Provo is at a crossroads, it would seem, with regard to the role it will play in the county economy. Today, Mayor Curtis proclaimed Provo the “retail king,” which is positive news no matter how you look at it.

But for Provo to have a long and fruitful reign, it needs to do a few things:

• Bring more retail to downtown. All of the stores Mayor Curtis mentions must be driven to. In fact, I don’t think there are any residential spaces within walking distance of Sam’s Club and Home Depot (I could be wrong, but either way there aren’t many). These stores are a net gain for the local economy as they stand now, but future residents are going to want more walkable communities and a thriving downtown. This is vital for Provo’s success.

• “Steal” retailers from other cities. My post about the closing of Nordstrom talks about this, but the point is that Provo’s growth hinges on the spending of non-Provo residents. The city needs stores that will draw people in from all over the valley, and concentrating the best and more desirable retailers in the city will accomplish that.

• Diversify. I almost never shop at the stores mentioned in Mayor Curtis’s post. They just don’t tailor to my needs/wants. Provo needs retailers that aren’t nessecarily big-box, driving-centric stores. I’d love to do all my shopping in Provo and with a more diversified retail sector, that can actually happen.

Provo can be and should be the economic anchor in Utah Valley. Orem — a city the mayor mentions — shouldn’t even be a contender when it comes to retail. Provo has the infrastructure, the population and the desire to make this happen.

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Filed under Development, Downtown, economics, Uncategorized

What is that stuff they’re putting on the convention center?

I’m pretty excited about the Utah Valley Convention Center. But I would like to know why half the building is being covered in what looks like cheap plastic siding. I pass by the construction site everyday and I love how the front and east sides of the building are interesting and attempt to strike a balance between old and new styles.

But the west side of the building is slowly being covered in silver and grey materials that look terrible. I sincerely hope that what is on the building now is not the final facade. Surely it isn’t. Surely no one would have made such a colossal, corner-cutting mistake. If it is the final facade, I will be forced to conclude that the architect simply built the structure from the pictures — as opposed to a real construction plan and blueprint.

In any case, cheap trailer park-esque materials are not inviting. They don’t suggest success or comfort. They’re tacky on a building like the convention center. They are a bad economic decision.

Someone please tell me that what I am seeing is not as it seems.

Here are some more pictures of the progress on the inside of the building.

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Apples, Gleaning, and Urban Food Growing

In Provo, the aroma of autumn hangs in the air, the scent of ripening apples lingers in the streets.

Several years ago, Laura and I noticed Provo’s many neglected apple trees — and the fruit they leave rotting on the ground — and began gleaning them. The activity has become something of an annual tradition for us, and in the past few years we’ve made dozens and dozens of pies, loaves of apple bread, bottles of apple sauce and other delicious food with the apples.

This year, however, competition was more fierce. There are several trees we like to visit, but each time we went there were several other people — usually couples — gleaning the trees as well.

Though my initial reaction was to be competitive, seeing other people gleaning turned out to be fairly pleasant. While enjoying the cool autumn air and the sweet smell of fruit, we got to meet other people who also felt like it was a shame to let pounds and pounds of apples go to waste. Plus, for the first time ever, we borrowed a telescoping apple picking tool, which allowed us to pick the highest apples and bring in the biggest harvest ever. We literally picked hundreds of dollars of free apples.

Gleening urban fruit is fun and has a positive impact on the community. It prevents trees from making a mess, thereby saving on grounds keeping costs, provides inexpensive (free) healthy food to residents, and can actually be a form of exercise. And at least as long as it remains a niche activity, there is a sense of camaraderie among gleaners; it’s as though we’re all in on a really cool secret.

In many places, gleaning is also becoming a way for cities to provide for less fortunate people. Volunteers go out and pick the fruit, and then some or all of it — depending on the particular program — is donated to local food banks and homeless shelters. It’s a win-win, and if it works properly there are almost no disadvantages.

Wouldn’t it be great if that happened in Provo? Even better, wouldn’t it be great if Provo became a leader in urban farming, gleaning, and food production? There are many people in Provo who don’t have the money to buy enough healthy food, and gleaning could become a boon for them. More selfishly, the more edible produce we grow in our community, the more delicious food we eat.

Making Provo a leader in urban food production would be comparatively easy. While it will ultimately take millions of dollars and many years to revitalize downtown, an apple tree costs only about $30. Every homeowner could afford to plant a single fruit tree. (When I moved into my home recently, Laura and I planted five.) The city also could easily plant more fruit trees in parks. We could rapidly increase the amount of food our public spaces produce, all for a very small cost.

Of course, there are challenges. One of the main concerns people have with fruit trees is the mess they make. That’s a real concern, but significantly, this year I noticed that there wasn’t much of a mess around the trees we visited. Enough people gleaned them that there were barely any apples on the ground. Problem solved. In other words, the demand already exists to consume all of Provo’s apples. With more awareness and organization, Provo residents could easily glean and clean up after hundreds of additional fruit trees.

To realistically make Provo an urban fruit mecca, the city (or another organization, if it was interested) could organize volunteers to periodically pick the fruit. Volunteers could keep some of it, and donate what they can’t use. I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty details here, but we could call this organization the Provo Gleaning Committee, or something to that effect. Provo is the best place in the county for volunteerism, so finding interested people shouldn’t be very difficult.

So while none of this would be free, the investment would be low and the pay off fast. It could probably be done all with donations; I know I’d contribute a fruit tree to plant in a park, and I bet others would as well. In the end, the health and community benefits would last for generations, and Provo would enjoy the collateral benefit of having a reputation as a leader in this growing movement.

To read about my first experiences gleaning apples in Provo, click here, here and here.

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Filed under apples, community, Food, local, Provo, tree, Uncategorized

Educated Job Seekers: Come to Provo

According to a recent post on the Mayor’s blog, Provo is the third best place for educated job seekers. That’s fantastic news, as educated people drive innovation, patronize interesting businesses, etc. It’s a positive sign that Provo continues to experience progress.

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Filed under Development, Provo

The Importance of Diversity

Provo is, without a doubt, a great place. But it’s not especially diverse. It’s very white, very Mormon, and very straight.

This article, however, argues that homogeneity may be hamstringing development. It’s interesting because I’ve always wished Provo had more diversity simply because it would make life more interesting and enjoyable. People from different backgrounds, races, religions and orientations inevitably have interesting things to say. Plus, I’m sufficiently comfortable in my own race/religion/orientation to find talking to people who are very different from me an immensely pleasurable experience.

But the article above isn’t really about quality of life. It’s about economic development. This is a particularly illuminative quote:

“To put it in plain English: diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down.”

Provo — and Utah in general — gets a lot of press about having an environment conducive to business. But if the city or state wants to stay competitive, it looks like we’re going to need to entice new, different people to come to town. People who are not necessarily white, Mormon, or straight.

That, of course, will have the collateral benefit of make all of our lives more interesting and enjoyable.

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Old Downtown Church To Become New Downtown Apartments

Last Sunday I was reading this article, on how old churches have been converted into luxury living spaces. As I was reading, I leaned over to Laura and said that the old, unused Sharpe reception center/old church right by Smith’s ought to become apartments.

And then, as though I had been clairvoyant, that actually happened! The link in the last sentence  goes to a Daily Herald article discussing the project at some length, but basically the interior of the building will be revamped and turned into nice apartments.

The fact that the building is going from abandoned to high density housing is amazing, and exactly the kind of thing Provo needs. Based on the description in the article, it seems it will bring in a slightly different demographic, will make the community more walkable, will increase property values in the surrounding area, and have a slew of other benefits. Huzzah!

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Filed under Development, Downtown, neighborhood, Provo, Uncategorized, urban, utah

Come See Provo’s Premiere Rap Artist

I’ve mentioned before in passing that Provo has a great — and sometimes locally under-appreciated — music scene. And this weekend, one of Provo’s most accomplished and diverse musicians will release, of all things, a rap album. For those who have been involved in Provo music at any point in the last several years, Chance Lewis needs no introduction. This Saturday at Muse Music, Chance will be release “Underdog.”

I first met Chance years ago when we were both in different Provo bands, and in the time since he has continued to evolve as an artist, fronting and contributing to an array of different projects. While most Provo bands either move away or dissolve, Chance has been steadily reaching into new genres, all while becoming a stalwart of Provo music; if you stop by Provo’s 100 Block with even the slightest degree of regularity, you will met Chance. Mention his name to any Provo band, and they’ll know who you’re talking about.

The point is that Chance has spent years honing his craft, as well as collecting material. (Chance might be one of the few Provo musicians to be approaching the so-called “10,000 hour rule,” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.)

Though this isn’t a CD review, “Underdog” is a delightfully allusive record that draws its inspiration — as well as its impetus for social critique — from its setting. Or said another way, “Underdog” is both a product of and commentary on Provo and Provo music. The album is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for when I wrote this.

That might make the record sound dry or too intellectual. It isn’t. Both Laura and I smiled our way through a first listen, and argued over which one of us liked it more on our way to the car.

As a result, the CD release show is a can’t-miss event. It will be unlike any other — here or elsewhere — and will showcase one of Provo’s best artists.

If you’re interested in additional information, the album release was featured in City Weekly and is discussed by the man himseld in this podcast. You can hear a preview of the album here. You can also watch a video below.

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Utah Valley Entrepreneurs

Not much of my work at the newspaper directly relates to Provo as a city and developing community, but today I covered a meeting honoring several local entrepreneurs. Though I am not a business person, I found it interesting to see the level and diversity of innovation in the local community.

Also, and because this blog is about Provo, it’s worth mentioning that the companies mentioned in that article are exactly the kinds of companies that Provo should be attracting to downtown.

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Provo, Parking, and Population Density

Parking is a contentious issue in Provo, with many residents pushing the city to impose parking space minimums on new developments, particularly those around BYU. However, in New York (and Portland), the city government imposes parking maximums.

Citizen concerns have to be met, of course, but it’s worth keeping in mind the longer-term objective: higher density communities with good walkability and little need for a car in the first place. If that’s a desirable goal — and it is, translating into wealthier and healthier communities, among other things — parking minimums may be exactly the opposite thing that we want, despite the short-term inconvenience they allegedly alleviate.

The entire article above is good and interesting, but I’d like to point out this quote, near the conclusion:

“None of this is to say parking maximums are a perfect policy. They’re certainly better for cities than parking minimums, but there’s a strong case to be made that parking should all be left up to the market.” (Emphasis mine).

This article, also from The Atlantic Cities, also discusses the dangers of driving-centric communities and may be the topic of another post.

Either way, then, Provo may currently be heading in the wrong direction. (Parking is also contentious in Provo because predatory booting companies target youth, especially in downtown, but that issue deserves its own posts.)

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