Daybreak: A Case Study

Daybreak is a planned community in South Jordan. Basically from the time it began construction I’ve had friends telling me I should check it out, and today I even know a few people either living there or considering it.

Consequently, a few weekends ago I finally made the trip out to Daybreak to see it for myself. I wanted to see what lessons — good and bad — it might hold for Provo, so Laura and I spent a few hours wandering around the streets, strolling along the waterfront, and otherwise experiencing the development. Below I’ve include pictures and captions about the experience. Later today, I’ll post a follow up with some broader conclusions.

First, getting to Daybreak is a pain and an ugly drive. Yes, developers may fill in all this empty space someday with pretty buildings, but this brings me to my first major criticism: it would have been better to invest all this money on infill in existing neighborhoods. That wouldn’t have worked for the developers, of course, but in a purely theoretical sense, it’s a waste to build a new community when extant communities have acres and acres of wasted or vacant space.

I’ve got to hand it to the developers of Daybreak: they did a good job with the trees. Streets all over the development are lined with them. It’ll be a decade or so before they’re really grand, but even at this stage the trees add a lot to the development.

This is a Mexican restaurant that’s part of Daybreak’s “SoDa Row,” or the downtown-ish commercial center of the development. One of the main challenges of many new developments is that the building owners need to recoup the cost of construction, so rents end up too high for local businesses. SoDa Row has a lot of vacant space, but it also has some local or semi-local businesses. It made me wonder if the rent is somehow subsidized for these businesses.

More of SoDa Row. In a generation or two, this little street might be really great. Right now, however, it feels kind of like an unused movie set. This picture was taken shortly after lunchtime on a beautiful Saturday, yet there was almost no one out. That’s a problem that many retail areas experience — including downtown Provo — but there was something unsettling about the contrast between SoDa Row’s emptiness and the newness of the buildings. It kind of felt like being in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film. More seriously, Daybreak has little excuse for this level of disuse, as the developers had and have the opportunity to avoid the problems plaguing other cities.

Vacant retail space on SoDa Row. These are attractive buildings, in my opinion, and as they fill up in the future should add a lot of vibrancy to the area.

More SoDa Row. This section of Daybreak is actually tiny — it’s comparable to a block or two of downtown Provo. And in 20 or 30 years, if Daybreak as a community thrives, it’ll probably be great. Right now, however, it feels a bit barren. Note, however, that there are few more people out in this picture.

An empty playground near SoDa Row. One of the weirdest things I saw during my visit to Daybreak was a different empty playground, with a construction site across the street filled with kids playing in a discarded sand pit. I don’t think that says much about Daybreak in particular, but it does illustrate the problem with the, “if you build they will come” mentality. In the end, a developer may build something, but people might just end up preferring the old, proverbial sand pit.

One of the biggest problems with Daybreak — which also seems to undermine SoDa Row — is that the developers have chosen to build the entire development like a suburb, not a historic city. In other words, rather than start at a central point and work outward, the developers have created a massive patchwork of neighborhoods each separated by big empty spaces.
The result is that Daybreak isn’t actually very walkable; residents can walk within their neighborhoods, but not to the store, restaurants, etc. I was particularly baffled to see that SoDa Row was largely buffered by undeveloped land. That makes it hard, and unpleasant, to walk from one section of Daybreak to another. Laura pointed out that the developers may be waiting to build on these unused sections until later when property values increase. Either way though, these sections hamper walkability and expose the artificiality of the development.

Daybreak does have a lot of attractive buildings. I’d live in these houses, though only time will tell how well they age. If these types of structures were built closer to amenities, as well as places like SoDa Row, they’d be even better.

Fairly attractive apartments in Daybreak. Another one of my quarrels with this development is that is sequesters different kinds of dwelling. So apartments are near apartments, single family homes near other single family homes. etc. Obviously, that also sequesters different kinds of people; there’s not going to be a lot of mixing between people of different ages or income levels.

Single family homes in Daybreak. Again, these are off in their own area, nowhere near basic amenities.
This brings me to one of the major failures of Daybreak: the developers utterly failed to understand mixed use development. Everything looks nice, but it’s all sequestered into it’s own area. The result is more driving and only superficial walkability.

One thing I absolutely love about Daybreak is that not every house is built on the street. This house, for example, only has a sidewalk out front. This concept provides a model for how Provo could create pocket neighborhoods and infill in areas where the big blocks don’t provide street access to large sections of land.

More attractive buildings that are separated from other types of housing as well as retail, and that are buffered from surrounding development by empty space. Again, this picture raises the question: why did developers skip this open patch of land, which would have been closer to the core of the development, and opt to build a block further out?

Daybreak’s TRAX station. It’s commendable that Daybreak has light rail, but it’s sad that at least in this case, it’s distant from actual dwellings, offices, and retail. In other words, Daybreak is using the Park-and-Ride model of transit. That’s better than nothing, but not as good as genuine, transit oriented development that connects more than a series of parking lots.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Daybreak: A Case Study

  1. Paul

    Daybreak certainly has its issues. However, features you’ve criticized are partly due to Daybreak being a work in progress. If you were to study their overall plan and talk to people at their welcome center (the big glass building), I think you would see the logic of what they are trying to do and how in the end it all will fit together. (Still, in the mean time it all feels kind of disjointed.)

    Also, although there are surely large areas of multifamily, in other areas they have done amazing things with blending single- and multifamily buildings. Maybe part of the reason the uses and densities seemed segregated is that some 3-5-dwelling buildings don’t look like so many units.

  2. I think that’s fair, though the fact that it’s a work in progress seems like a criticism itself; Salt Lake county could have seen the same increase in housing entirely via infill. That’s perhaps an unrealistic dream but I think it would have been better in just about every way.

    But I think the biggest problems don’t stem from the development’s newness. Why was there no one out on the streets, for example, even in neighborhoods that, based on the landscaping and toys scattered about, were largely filled? I don’t know why the amount of time people have lived in their homes would impact that. This criticism applies to many subdivisions, but I was hoping Daybreak wouldn’t be just another subdivision. I’m operating under the assumption that sprawl is bad and after visiting Daybreak it seems a whole lot like sprawl.

    Relatedly, the people deep inside these already built neighborhoods are simply never going to be within walking distance of transit or amenities (unless recently built homes are torn down To make room for other things) There’s a bus that passes literally outside my house. Several others pass through my neighborhood. Is that ever going to happen in Daybreak?

    Daybreak seems like it will only ever have park and ride transit. I hope I’m wrong, but am I? And even if all that empty land ends up being developed into commercial and office space, the people deep inside the neighborhoods will still have a hard time walking anywhere.

    My point is that while I may be wrong about the mixed density housing, the is no true mixed use development in Daybreak. Maybe that will change with time, but on the map we were given there were clearly residential zones and commercial zones, and i didn’t notice much overlap.

    I think it’s also worth noting that I’m not comparing Daybreak to the typical suburban neighborhood, I’m comparing it to the best neighborhoods I’ve been to. To me, Daybreak does a much better job than other subdivisions, but the bar was so low that that wasn’t really hard to do. So in other words, I’m holding Daybreak to an extremely high and perhaps unfair standard because they started from scratch.

  3. But Paul, if I’m missing the point here, what are the issues you see with this development?

  4. Pingback: Daybreak: Conclusions | (pro(vo)cation)

  5. Pingback: Best June Posts | (pro(vo)cation)

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