On Adding Intimate Urban Gardens

KSL ran a story over the weekend about a community garden in Manti. The garden sits near the small town’s LDS temple and occupies the space of a formerly vacant lot.

Reading the story, I was struck by how often gardens are overlooked in urban and city settings, despite the fact that they can be tremendous assets. As the KSL story points out, beauty matters:

“We have a group of people that understand what beauty is and why we should appreciate it,” [Shannon] Miller said. “And because of that, people have come out and helped and our garden is complete.”

In terms of urban green space, parks usually get all the attention. The line between a park and a garden can also be blurry; Berlin’s Tiergarten functions more like a central park, and both Thanksgiving Point Gardens as well as Butchart Garderns near Victoria, Canada, are large, pay-to-get-in garden spaces.

Berlin’s Tiergarten is a major park in the city.

All of these different types of gardens can be wonderful, but I think in the context of Provo, the Manti garden is perhaps most useful. Unlike massive or revenue-driven gardens, it apparently aims to be a pleasant, intimate, and small space. And most importantly, it’s adjacent to central Manti’s largest, busiest destination.

Provo really doesn’t have anything like that. At the west end of downtown, Provo has Pioneer Park, and at the other has the grounds outside the historic courthouse and DMV, but there aren’t really any small, beautiful spaces. The closest thing in the entire city might be BYU’s Botany Pond.

Other cities in the area, however, do have such spaces. Springville’s Museum of Art, for example, has a quiet and intimate sculpture garden on it’s grounds.

The Springville Museum of Art’s sculpture garden in use during a wedding reception.

The great thing about Springville’s space is that it’s really small, it’s public, and it’s a quiet place in the midst of the city. Beautiful and open public spaces are important, but great cities also need quiet intimacy as well. For some cities like Venice, quiet little squares are one of the main draws.

The point here is that Provo could use more intimate garden space. This space might technically be a park — and could fall under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department — but would be physically and philosophically different. Where most Provo parks are set up against streets and include big grassy areas, this kind of garden would be smaller, perhaps nestled between other city features like buildings.

If you read this blog often, you may know where I’m going with this: the center of the blocks. Downtown Provo has a massive amount of wasted space behind and between buildings. In this post, I wrote that that space could be used to create charming pedestrian malls, adding vitality to the retail environment.

But if that space also could be used for gardens. Though this idea is admittedly a long shot, it would have the benefit of adding another draw to downtown, stimulating foot traffic, raising property values, reducing the amount of heat-causing pavement, etc. It’d also be cheaper than infill.

I don’t know if anything like this will happen soon, but the point is that as we visualize the Provo of the future it doesn’t hurt to imagine a city that is considerably more beautiful to behold.

Vacant space between buildings in the area of 350 W. Center Street. Imagine this area as a beautiful garden.

If you walk through the alley in the picture above, you end up in this open — and mostly wasted — gravel area.

A satelite view of the alleys from the pictures above. Right now this space is the realm of weeds, trash, and old vehicles. Imagine if it was a tiny oasis. It happens to be right by both the new convention center and the city’s justice court, so it would theoretically get a lot of use. I also like this space because, at least in theory, it’s L shaped, meaning it would clearly have sections and be a path to somewhere. I think that would add a subtle sense of intimacy to the area.

A “pocket park” just south of the Wells Fargo building on University Ave. This park approaches the idea I’m talking about, but doesn’t quite get there; it’s still noisy, exposed, and — despite the trees — not particularly interesting. I like this little park, but an intimate urban garden would be something more.

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2 Comments

Filed under Development, Downtown

2 responses to “On Adding Intimate Urban Gardens

  1. Pingback: Putting People in the Streets | (pro(vo)cation)

  2. Pingback: London Shows that Little Gardens Matter | (pro(vo)cation)

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