I suppose my own neighborhood is my favorite neighborhood because I chose to live in it. But if I were choosing another area of Provo to call my favorite, it’d probably be the northeast corner of the Maeser neighborhood. I’m thinking of the area just east of 700 East, and immediately south of Center Street.
I was recently told by a resident of this area that it was “Provo’s first subdivision.” I wasn’t sure how to officially confirm that fact, but checking county records I found that many of the homes in the area were built in the 1940s or earlier. I also found one house that was built in 1927 and another that is as old as 1922. So it seems the neighborhood came together over a roughly 20 year period.
So what makes this area so great?
Most obviously, the area is built on a smaller scale than anywhere else in downtown. The streets are roughly half as wide as those in other parts of downtown, and the lots are smaller as well.
The narrower streets mean less car traffic. What traffic does enter the area also moves at a slower speed.
The smaller streets also reduce the amount of undeveloped land — meaning land that isn’t generating tax revenue — which then fills city coffers and cuts down on maintenance expenses. And as anyone who has ever walked down both narrow and wide streets can attest, the narrower ones generally tend to be more pleasant.
The smaller lots have similar benefits, squeezing more homes and people into less space. Significantly, they’ve also apparently made it more difficult to alter the composition of the neighborhood. Whereas my neighborhood’s deep but narrow lots have given rise to numerous cheap apartment complexes, the area in these pictures remains almost entirely filled with houses.
And many of those houses are charming:
Not all of the homes in this neighborhood are immaculately maintained. In fact, the area does have a slight roughness about it. But that suggests to me that its probably one of the best bargain areas in the city right now. The combination of small streets, charming houses and walkability means this area is a likely spot of future gentrification.
And the neighborhood is genuinely walkable in a way that most parts of Provo are not. Though most of the homes have a “somewhat walkable” Walk Score in the 60s, that doesn’t really capture the fact that this neighborhood is literally right around the corner from a grocery store, two parks, and within walking distance of restaurants, schools and other amenities. In other words, though other parts of the city — including my own street — might technically have higher Walk Scores, this corner of the Maeser neighborhood might actually be more walkable. (Significantly, I haven’t noticed many shopping carts in the area, which can be a sign of semi-walkability.)
The neighborhood also has a bunch of other cool features. For example, the driveways often access the homes from an alley running down the middle of the blocks, meaning no ugly garage doors facing the streets, less wasted driveway space, less heat-generating pavement, and convenient unofficial throughways cutting through the blocks.
If a neighborhood must be built with car accessibility, this is a pretty great way to do it.
A resident of this area also recently told me that garbage pickup still takes place in the alleys, meaning no garbage cans or trash trucks going down the streets. I don’t know why more of Provo’s neighborhoods weren’t developed with this feature.
As I mentioned above, this neighborhood is a bargain hunter’s paradise right now. It’s exactly the kind of place experts say people increasingly want — i.e. smaller dwellings in a walkable location — that hasn’t yet priced out the kind of people who’d be excited to live in these older homes.
More importantly, it’s a model on various levels of how to build with both cars, people, and bikes in mind. And though no neighborhood anywhere is perfect, this one succeeds better than most others in Utah County.