The Best Neighborhood in Provo

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.

The northeast section of the Maeser Neighborhood may be the best neighborhood in Provo.

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.

Narrow streets make for luxurious bike riding.

Most homes in this area have relatively small lots.

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:

A home in the Maeser neighborhood. Note the stained glass window.

Another home in the neighborhood, this time with unusual brickwork.

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.)

Homes in this area are very near a couple of parks.

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.

An alleyway cutting through the middle of a block in the Maeser neighborhood.

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.

Unlike most parts of Provo, garbage is picked up in the alleyways behind the houses here.

Walking through the alleyways of the Maeser neighborhood is a great way to check out gardens.

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.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “The Best Neighborhood in Provo

  1. Nathan

    I don’t know if it was Provo’s first subdivision development but the neighborhood is called East Park and the plat was recorded in 1923. I saw a copy of the original county plat once and the streets were named after famous playwrights. I’ll see if I can find it again.

  2. Matt Taylor

    When I was in the planning department I also studied this subdivision. It probably represents the third wave of growth for Provo. The Maeser and Joaquin Neighborhoods were not part of the original Provo plat. University Avenue was the edge of town, and today’s 500 West and Center was the original center of town. Joaquin and Maeser neighborhoods were patterned after the original plat, but I believe were not platted until the 1870/80s. That is why you will see the oldest surviving structures in Provo in the Franklin and Dixon Neighborhoods.

    Joaquin and Maeser neighborhoods consist of second generation Provoans and in many instances, their ‘new money’ (e.g., Jesse Knight). Quite a fight arose over where the Center of town should be. Brigham Young told them to move the tabernacle to its current location, rather than the center of town (present-day pioneer park) and Jesse Knight were investing huge amounts of money at the turn of the century in new building at present-day University Ave/Center Street (i.e., the Knight Block building).

    This really ticked the old-timers, like Thomas N. Taylor (who’s house still stands on 500 West and business building still stands at 250 West Center [where Joe Vera’s Mexican Restaurant is located). A feud about where the new rail-road station should be built arose. T.N.T. promoting the current location at 300 West (the building was razed in the mid ’90s) and Jesse Knight promoting University and 600 South (almost where the new intermodal station is. For the 20th Century T.N.T. won. But, practically, Jesse Knight still won, because Provo’s first tier suburb (Joaquin and Maeser) became the new economic center of town and eventually was officially made the center of town.

    Sorry, that was really a long way to illustrate why the ‘East Park’ plat is part of Provo’s third wave of growth, which was fairly limited because Provo wasn’t particularly a happening place in the ’20s and what growth that was happening was cut short by the depression.

    I also wanted to buy a home in this neighborhood for the reasons you mentioned. Because it was platted in the ’20s, it mimicked what was typically being done across the country at that time before the reworking of everything to accommodate the automobile. Andres Duany has referred to this period as being much of what the “New Urbanism” is trying to recapture and promote. New Urbanism is really repackaged old urbanism before it was replaced by autocentric suburban development.

    • Dave Peris

      “Because it was platted in the ’20s, it mimicked what was typically being done across the country at that time before the reworking of everything to accommodate the automobile. . . . New Urbanism is really repackaged old urbanism before it was replaced by autocentric suburban development.”

      Amen and amen

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  6. A. Cook

    Good article! I remember walking in that area every once in a while with my wife on our strolls – (though I haven’t learned the names of the neighborhoods yet). She lived in a basement apartment in that neighborhood before we got married. Also, ever since I was exposed to the idea I’ve been a fan of alley access, or at the very least putting the garage in the back of the building.

  7. Jasony Kanoli

    This is exactly like most of the neighborhoods in Ohio. Provo, however, is probably a lot more kempt.

  8. Carrie

    Let’s see…narrow streets, small blocks, small lots, alleys, high-density housing, easy walking access to businesses and schools, built-in resistance to alteration of neighborhood character…this describes exactly what I love about my neighborhood (SLC Avenues.) Bargain hunter’s paradise? Well, you could have said that twenty five years ago. Maeser sounds like a great opportunity.

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