Earlier this week, I suggested that Provo sell off the edges of too-wide streets so they can be developed as housing. I stand by that idea because I think it would improve quality of life for everyone, because it would raise money, and because it would save millions in tax dollars.
But I may not have articulated the idea very well. I’ve particularly begun to regret sharing that photo of the MOMA exhibit because while it took this concept to its logical conclusion, that isn’t a conclusion that could, or should, ever be reached.
Instead, this idea is a way to reduce paved, expensive areas. If done right, it wouldn’t significantly reduce the amount of green space or the number of trees.
In an effort to convey what I’m suggesting, I’ve created the image below. I wanted to use my own street, but trees in the satellite image obscured the view. So instead, I used a street near my house. And bear with me; I made this using a very rudimentary free drawing program. Still, it’s more or less what I’m talking about:
The blue boxes represent possible lots for homes. They look small, but the house to the left is a mansion and one of the largest buildings in the neighborhood. I estimate that these “lots” — which, again, are crudely drawn — are about 20 feet deep and almost as wide. Depending on circumstance, they could also be made bigger. I’ve been casually researching small lot homes lately and I’ve found many incredible designs that would fit into these spaces.
The yellow lines represent sidewalks. I’ve argued over and over that Provo needs to break up its huge blocks with more pedestrian paths. This idea wouldn’t exactly do that, but it would increase walkability by offering pedestrians multiple routes.
The green strip to the right of the lots represents a new, grassy parkway.
And finally, the purple circles represent trees (sorry, I had already used green). Note that this proposal would require cutting down two trees, but would result in planting nine new ones. In my book, that’s a major improvement.
A few other things: with the exception of the trees, this entire proposal takes place on city land. The large lawn of the existing home is preserved and the reduction of green space is generally very minimal.
This proposal also takes up less than half the street. Look at the car in the picture; the street is still wide enough for at least three, and maybe four, vehicles. However, with a narrowed street cars would tend to slow down, increasing safety.
Finally, some people might look at this idea and say “but now the street is irregular! It gets narrower at one end!”
To that concern I say “so what?” Most of my favorite places in the world have irregular streets. The speed-related benefits of a narrower street would likely extend beyond the immediate vicinity of the new development, and if property owners up the block consented this concept could be extended. If they didn’t, the street could just stay narrower on one end. No big deal. And who knows, 200 years from now that irregularity might provide a spot for a nice little square or cafe like the one I recently saw in Tangier. Ultimately, irregularity is a benefit of this plan.
This idea also doesn’t turn Provo into Manhattan or Europe. It simply replaces a bit of street with a few small homes and cottages for families. There’s still green space, trees, and full street access for existing homes.
I’ve been wanting to write about this concept for months. I hesitated, however, because I wasn’t aware of a city that had actually tried it. But as my original post indicates, Vancouver is making it happen. The street grid in Vancouver is clearly different than the one in Provo, but this idea absolutely could be adapted and the picture above is just one possible way to do that.