A few weeks ago I wrote about the best neighborhood in Provo and ended up surprised by the feedback. There are a few fascinating comments on that post, and I’ve had numerous interesting and related conversations in real life. In fact, it seems like pretty much everyone loves that neighborhood.
The things making that corner of the Maeser neighborhood unique are not difficult to understand. The homes are small and well-built; the smaller blocks have alleyways for access, garbage removal etc.; everyone lives close to amenities like parks and grocery stores; there are no big garage doors facing the street.
But I think the best part of all — and perhaps what makes everything else possible — are the smaller streets.
I wrote about this idea back in March while reporting on a post about the difference between the car-centric streets of Atlanta and the narrow lanes of Florence, Italy. And during my recent trip to Europe, I saw plenty of others streets that also emphasized the superiority of smaller lanes:
So why don’t we build streets like these today? If that’s asking too much, why don’t we just try to make our neighborhood streets a little more intimate? Why don’t we retrofit existing neighborhoods to more closely resemble the northeast Maeser neighborhood, if not areas in these pictures?
If you’re thinking the answer to those questions is “because it’s illegal,” or “because we just can’t these days,” please stop. We can and unlike, say, murder, which is inherently bad, there is nothing wrong with narrow streets. In fact, I’d say in some cases they’re inherently better.
But our laws, customs, and practices are preventing us from building exactly the kinds of places that many people — including myself and others in Provo — love and pay a lot of money to get to. We’ve outlawed something wonderful.
In other words, we’re choosing to build inferior spaces. It’s absolutely a choice and it’s one that we can simply stop making.