Last week I wrote that Provo should sell off land currently used as streets to be developed as housing. I also described how that might work.
But the benefits of trying this idea aren’t just limited to saving money and increasing safety, though those factors are important. Rather, adding more housing to downtown neighborhoods means providing a place for young professionals and families.
Fast Co.Design recently tackled this issue in a piece about Raleigh, North Carolina. Much like Provo, that city has a few different types of housing but none that really cater to the needs of young college grads and workers:
But because of outdated zoning ordinances that require housing lots to be a minimum size, newcomers are greeted by two equally unsustainable options for housing: buying a large lot downtown; or buying a car and commuting from a more affordable home in the suburbs.
That’s more or less the situation in Provo, with the added dynamic of student housing. However, none of those options are ideal; buying a home in downtown Provo is expensive and can be an overcommitment for young workers who need professional mobility. Renting in a student-oriented complex is too transient.
One person left a comment saying more or less the same thing on my post about great cities retaining residents. I also found myself in this situation; after getting jobs, Laura and I no longer had the need or desire to live in slummy, cinderblock student housing, but we didn’t really want to buy a house.
We looked for months for something in our price range — something a bit more “grown up” than most of Provo’s housing, but still catering to a young demographic — but eventually gave up. We didn’t leave Provo, but that was only because we got very, very lucky. Other people aren’t so fortunate and end up leaving. If Provo’s neighborhoods gentrify, this could become an even greater problem.
The article discusses efforts to build modular homes in the underused nooks and crannies of Raleigh’s existing neighborhoods. I proposed something similar, at least as far as capitalizing on underused space, here.
The point is that adding more homes to existing neighborhoods gives people more housing options. Young professionals and families can choose to buy a house, or they can choose to rent something more appropriate for their age and income level. That’s the whole idea behind the Raleigh approach.
For the record, I hate the actual modular homes in that article. But the underlying idea — that neighborhoods need more density and diversity for younger professionals — applies at least as much to Provo as anywhere else. And in Provo’s case, building in the streets could help accomplish that objective.