When I try to think of the richest cities in the U.S., the two that almost always come to mind are Boston and San Francisco. These two cities have a lot in common: they’re costal, liberal, big but not massive, etc. Few of those attributes apply to Provo.
But significantly, they’re also major college towns. The San Francisco area is home to Stanford and Berkley, among many other schools. And the Boston area is home to MIT and Harvard, also among many other schools. All in all, it’s pretty incredible that four schools of that caliber are concentrated in two American cities.
Provo, of course, is also a college town and many people — myself included — initially arrived in the area for school. Provo has a complicated relationship with its student population, but as college towns all over the world demonstrate, education is a major asset for a community. This article expands on that idea, arguing that
“The relationship between global cities and leading universities in mutually reinforcing. Great universities thrive in great cities which attract people and business from around the world.”
Provo is a long way from being a “global city,” and the area schools are in a very different league from Harvard and Stanford (though BYU in particular seems to lack the will, rather than the resources, to become a world-class university.)
But as I consider Provo’s future, I keep coming back to education. As major cities like Boston, San Francisco, or especially New York — which has so many schools that listing them would probably double the length of this post— demonstrate, a diversified education sector is an important part of a strong local economy. It adds consumers to the population, generates innovation and entrepreneurialism, and brings in highly educated workers. It also improves well-being and is mutually beneficial to the city and the students.
Despite Provo’s sometimes-strained relationship with its students, downtown in particular needs more of them. Provo could use more diverse higher education. The obvious, if somewhat radical, conclusion here is that downtown needs a higher education presence — not just students, but actual educational facilities.
I’ll return to this idea in the future, but for now it doesn’t cost anything to dream.