As a land-locked city in a county with high projected growth, Provo sits at a crossroads with regard to how it will deal with future population changes. The past model for population growth in Utah County was to build sprawl.
However, in many ways the situation facing Provo resembles a micro version of the one in L.A., as explained by Matthew Yglesias. Just as L.A. grew steadily during the 20th Century, Provo is growing now. Additionally, both Provo and L.A. are physically constrained by natural barriers. And as Yglesias points out, the result of steady growth in L.A. was legendary traffic jams, which increasingly is how people describe driving in Utah.
But the lesson here is actually how to manage growth and turn it into a positive thing. Yglesias notes that while some cities have capped growth with zoning laws, L.A. welcomed it by investing in increased density and public transit:
Over the past 20 years, however, L.A. has chosen the bolder path of investing in the kind of infrastructure that can support continued population growth, and shifting land use to encourage more housing and more people.
In other words, cities that want to grow need to build places for more people to live and systems to move them around. L.A. illustrates that lesson, and Provo needs to internalize it.
According to the article, L.A. began the process of accommodating growth and becoming a great public transit city in the 1990s after political will began to shift. Today, the changes are having a real impact on the city that I remember mostly as a tangle of stroads and car sewers. Apparently, I need to give it a second chance.
Provo won’t be as big as L.A. any time soon. But this story shows that land-locked cities can either strangle growth and push it out to the suburbs — as has happened in Utah — all while dealing with ever-increasing congestion, or they can figure out ways to accommodate more people in a smaller area.