Occasionally in Provo someone will talk about their desire to see the downtown neighborhoods gentrify. And while gentrification can get out of hand — and frequently connotes something negative — I’m inclined to agree in this specific case; downtown saw so many years of neglect and poor policy that at least the beginning stages of gentrification would be an improvement.
What sometimes gets left out of the discussion, however, is that gentrification doesn’t mean freezing neighborhoods’ composition. Instead, gentrification requires evolution and building new structures even as the old ones are preserved and improved.
Or at least, that’s the idea behind of a recent article in the New York Observer. The article points out that as multifamily buildings are restored to single family dwellings — a popular, if yet unfulfilled, dream in Provo — the amount of housing for middle class people drops. A smaller supply then increases prices for everyone and ultimately drives up the cost of living.
Translation: converting old houses back to single family homes makes it more expensive to live in a neighborhood.
The logical solution is to add housing. Though the article doesn’t quite move beyond lamenting the homogenizing effects of gentrification, the goal really is to maintain — or, actually, increase — the supply of housing. In other words, restore the old mansions but don’t price out the young families while doing it.
Like New York but on a vastly smaller scale, Provo has old houses that have been chopped up and used for lower income or student housing. Some of these homes are beautiful and would benefit from restoration. But if that restoration isn’t accompanied with more building in the same neighborhoods, Provo will become a place where families can’t afford to settle down.