Monthly Archives: December 2011

Quotes On Cities

Here are a series of quotes about cities — and the nature of cities — from MyUrbanist. The quotes are all interesting, but I’m posting a link to them here because it’s important to remember our priorities as we think about Provo: sustainability, walkability, economic and cultural growth, prosperity.

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Take This Survey on Biking in Provo

Apparently, Provo is in need of people to take this survey (the survey is at the bottom of the page). This is the quote the city recently posted to their Facebook page:

The team working on the Provo City Bicycles Facilities Master Plan (planning bike routes, etc., throughout the city) is desperate for some more responses to its survey. Apparently other cities got hundreds to take their bike surveys, and we’re way short. Please take the survey and share it with others. Thanks!

Taking survey’s in Provo really does make a difference, and when it comes to something as important to biking, there really isn’t any reason not to take it.

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Filed under biking, environment, travel

A Typical Back-Handed Compliment

Here’s a review of Communal, the wonderful restaurant in downtown Provo. The review is pretty positive about the food, but it’s also filled with stupid, sneering disdain for Utah County. For example, the second sentence begins “for a community swimming in franchises and chain restaurants….”

Here are a couple of other notable quotes:

“I waltzed in thinking ‘Who does brunch in Utah County?'”

“But, there was wine to sip (yes, wine in Utah County!) as we awaited…”

Now don’t get me wrong, I think the overall assessment of the restaurant is more than fair. I enjoy Communal, but if I were reviewing it I could find more to criticize than writer Ted Scheffer does here.

But when he’s not taking about the food, Scheffer follows the worn and idiotic narrative that many writers adopt when talking about cool things in Provo: I ventured out into the boonies and — who would have thought! — I actually discovered something amidst the rabble and ape-men that didn’t completely suck.

This story gets told again and again and again. I’ve probably seen a dozen or more posts describing Velour and Muse Music this way. Pizzeria 712 — which I personally think is better than any SLC pizzeria — also gets this treatment. Other things I’ve heard described this way: the Beehive Bazaar, Nicolitalia Pizzeria, Guru’s, Provo’s downtown, and (bafflingly) even the various canyons in Utah County. As the story goes, they’re all cool but so surprising! One of the first rules of being a writer is to read a lot, but the redundancy of this story makes it seem like those who write about Provo have never read a single on the city before in their lives.

Though it may be futile to say this, I wish SLC people would quit depicting Provo as a place filled with backward hicks. Whether they do it consciously or not, I think people depict Provo in this way because they feel it makes them look more urbane. SLC is perceived by many non-Utahns much the same way Provo is perceived by many SLC-ers, so finding a city that they feel is even less cool makes them feel better about themselves. It’s also worth noting that every single one of the quotes I highlighted above could be used by a visitor to describe SLC.

The worst part about this is that many of perceptions about Provo aren’t even true. Yes, there are chains here, but not really in downtown. Sure, not everyone goes to brunch, but a lot of people do and there are actually several options within walking distance of Communal (so take that, completely un-walkable SLC). The wine criticism is fair, I suppose, but Utah has serious image problems across the entire state when it comes to alcohol.

But I know that criticizing snotty, naive SLC writers who mistakenly depict their city as the pinnacle of cosmopolitan living is pointless. What isn’t pointless, however, is recognizing the way people think about Provo and determining if those perceptions help or hurt the city’s development and economy. Identifying perceptions involves reading between the lines, but as the review mentioned above shows, that isn’t very hard. In future posts I’ll be tackling perceptions of Provo, but for now I have this to say: suck it SLC people. Go stuff your gullets with chain pizza at Settebello while we continue to enjoy this.

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Filed under buy local, Development, Downtown, Food, Provo, restaurant, urban

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