As far as I’m aware, Provo has no signs to help pedestrians navigate downtown. That’s a problem:
Imagine you somehow ended up on a downtown Provo street corner with no knowledge of the city. If you have a smart phone, google maps can get you started. But an iPhone isn’t necessarily going to direct you along the most scenic or safe route. It won’t automatically show clusters of interesting things together — an off-the-radar restaurant near a small art gallery, for example — and ultimately won’t help visitors navigate the city as efficiently as locals.
The answer to these problems is “wayfinding,” a word describing efforts to provide navigation tools within an urban environment. The Atlantic Cities has devoted several articles to this concept in recent months, including this one. Practically speaking, wayfinding is often accomplished through visual landmarks, signs, public maps and other tools. It seeks to answer many questions:
How do you clarify to people what a city is about, how they should move through it and where they can find all the really important stuff? Or, put another way: How does a city do this, all on its own, so that I don’t have to ask a knowledgeable-seeming stranger on the street for directions?
Asking strangers for directions can be very effective, but I’ve also noticed that adding pedestrian signs and maps to a city can help a visitor immensely. Indeed as I’ve traveled, I’ve invariably had a more efficient and pleasurable experience in cities with aids that helped me find the points of interest. Even people who don’t travel a lot have probably had similar experiences when simply visiting an amusement park or mall.
Provo isn’t an exceptionally difficult city for visitors to navigate, but as downtown becomes more complex and filled with more destinations — the Tabernacle Temple, the convention center, the historic ruins, the frontrunner station — additional wayfinding aids would be immensely useful. As Emily Badger writes:
A wonderfully designed place presents itself to tourists and residents alike with a kind of intuitive ease: the church is on the hill, the commerce is on the river, the grand boulevard leads straight to the main monument in town. Everywhere else, you need signs. And street banners, and pavement markings and public art and directional plaques and map kiosks.
As Provo proverbially grows up, installing wayfinding aids such as signs and maps would help people navigate the city, encourage walking, and bolster a sense of place. What’s more, this idea would be relatively cheap and easy to implement.