A View of Downtown

Perhaps the best way to understand the successes and problems of a city is to experience it first hand and, I think, couple that experience with rigorous study. I’m particularly enamored with idea of the flanuer, as explained by Baudelaire and others.

To that end I try to walk through Provo as often as possible, looking for things that seem to work and things that need improvement. This last weekend, I decided to take my camera with me and I’ve included some of the photographs below. Along with the pictures, I’m including thoughts inspired by both observation as well as my own (admittedly embryonic) studies in urbanism. Also, these pictures aren’t meant to be art. I prefer to think of them as anthropological documentation, at best.

The photo below of Gloria’s Little Italy and, down the street, Los Hermanos, shows of one of the more charming parts of downtown but also reveals an alarming omission: people. This picture was taken at 5:42 p.m., on a relatively nice day. As Jane Jacobs and many others have argued, a successful sidewalk needs to be filled with people. While I stood on this corner a few people parked their cars nearby and walked into Gloria’s, but there was virtually no other “strolling” traffic.

Here’s the new restaurant Sora, which I’m looking forward to trying. But again, where are the people? I suspect the good folks behind Sora — who did a great renovation on a once frighteningly dilapidated building — were wondering the same thing, as it’s been fairly empty whenever I walk by. This photo was taken around 6 p.m.

I took this photo mostly so that when the Nu Skin construction is done I’d be able to go back and remember what it looked like mid-process. One interesting thing, however, is the car in the foreground. I think it’s a Toyota Camry, but notice the fancy rims and tinted windows. It’s clearly a vehicle being driven by someone with a little disposable income. Provo needs more people like that who come downtown and patronize consumer businesses.

From the dolphin mural on the side of the Hookah Connection. Street art is a valuable addition to a downtown.

The convention center is moving along nicely. I think the designers did a decent job merging old and new styles. Except for one thing…

… the entire west side of the building. The photo below doesn’t do justice to the hideousness of the convention center’s west side. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to clad half the structure in cheap, grey vinyl siding should be fired. It doesn’t matter if it saved money or if there are plans to add on to the convention center in the future. The reality is that for now, visitors entering the city from either the airport or the new Center Street I15 exit are greeted with what looks like a giant mobile home.

The Madison seems to be doing well. I went on two or three walks in downtown this same day and it just became more and more crowded.

Seriously, so embarrassing (see photo below). It’s like the architect forgot that the building was going to need a west side at all. This is the equivalent to buying a pair of pants, taking them home, trying them on, and finding out that they have no back side.

The photo below is looking south on Freedom. Sometimes I forget just how rough and ugly this area appears to be. Of course, this is going to become the corridor to the commuter rail, and is already a fairly significant street in the city. What strikes me about this photo is that there isn’t just a lack of people, but there’s really no reason for any people to use the street in the first place. To paraphrase Jane Jacobs, no one uses a street unless they have a reason to do so. As it stands right now, this street not only fails to give pedestrians a reason to use it, but also actively discourages use with inadequate sidewalks, no trees, and of course no real destinations. However, I have high hopes for this area in terms of revitalization.

Though he’s hard to see in the photo below, there was actually a street performer playing the ukelele outside Gloria’s. This photo was taken just after 6 p.m.

The 100 Block. Notice the ladder leaning against the “Legion” building. A local theater group plans to stage a play in that building next month, and possibly on an ongoing basis.

As I mentioned above, I walked around downtown multiple times over the weekend. One thing that really surprised me was how lively it got later in the evening, around  9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Even at those times it could have benefited from a lot more foot traffic, but there were events going on a various locations meaning at least a few people were out.

I’m not going to get into prescriptive solutions in this post — though I can think of a few — but hopefully these pictures were useful for seeing some of downtown’s assets, as well as the area’s challenges.

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9 Comments

Filed under community, Development, Downtown, restaurant

9 responses to “A View of Downtown

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  4. Drew

    Is the Bus Rapid Transit back on Freedom, now? Last I heard (this past summer) it was going to be University Ave. I’d be interested if it changed back to Freedom.

    • one of the city planners recently told me it was still on university. I got the impression that it’s still early enough in the process that it could change, but he didn’t mention anything about freedom.

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