The Right Side of the Tracks

Back in May, I quoted Slate’s Matthew Yglesias as saying that transit stations often dramatically “increase the value of station-proximate land.” Now, just months later, that phenomenon is occurring in Draper and offers useful lessons for neighboring cities like Provo.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Draper city council is trying to create a Community Development Area Plan, which will stimulate growth around the city’s train station.

The area would include an Ebay complex, commercial areas, dense residential buildings, walking and hiking trails. In 20 years, it is estimated to bring $1.2 million in proposed developmental value.

The Draper example has at least two noteworthy implications for Provo. The first is that the land surrounding the new intermodal hub is a likely spot for development and cities need to actively pursue options. If that seems a little obvious, keep in mind that Provo is currently building a parking lot around its transit station and the area remains appallingly unwalkable and plagued by blight.

Provo’s commuter rail station.

The situation will surely improve with time, but these issues aren’t immediately fixing themselves and cities like Draper prove that being proactive can pay off.

The second lesson is that there is still a vast public knowledge gap about what all of this means. The article recounts how one resident encouraged city council members to research urban design principles, as expressed by Daybreak. Daybreak is certainly less bad than other suburbs, but it’s hardly the model for a community with transit right in its center. (Daybreak’s stations are located on peripheries and there is no internal transit.)

Perhaps even more tellingly, the article also points out that barely anyone showed up to discuss the development.

Taken together, these points suggest that people may simply be unfamiliar with what high density, transit-oriented development actually looks like or why it matters. That lack of awareness, or interest, may make it difficult to actually fast-track development.

The point here is that with the arrival of commuter rail cities like Draper and Provo have incredible potential. Actually capitalizing on that potential, however, will require a combination of smart development and effective public outreach.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Right Side of the Tracks

  1. The City Council had an overview of the status on land around the Transit Center on their September 4 Work Session. The zoning for the right type of development is in place, a redevelopment area collecting tax increment for redevelopment projects is in place. Provo Housing Authority owns a significant half-block of property between University Avenue and 100 West on the south side of 400 South. The City is a close partner with them. The City owns a half block on the west side of 400 West between 500 South and the tracks. The Energy Department is temporarily leasing the former Anderson Lumber site between 500 and 600 S Freedom. Hopefully that gives the City a better opportunity in the future to facilitate something positive there. The Council seemed to be ready to act when the right opportunities arise (private-public partnership or pubic opportunity).

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