The Way to Get More Retail Downtown

Ask most people in Provo what they’d like to see more of downtown and you’ll probably hear something about retail. With plenty of old buildings and lots of vacancies, it’s only natural that downtown should be filled with stores. But it isn’t.

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, however, recently pointed out the single cause for this problem: density. Yglesias is explaining why Washington D.C. can’t support as many stores as New York City, but the problem is the same in Provo, only worse because there is far less density here than in those two metropolises.

Yglesias goes on to connect a lack of retail to things like parking and height limits as well. It’s a great post that perfectly sums up why any place — including Provo — can’t seem to support enough stores.

Half of the store front space in this building is empty, and has been as long as I can remember. Adding density is the way to change that.

It also raises a question: why isn’t everyone in Provo militantly in favor of adding density. It seems like everyone wants more stores downtown but stores require customers and, clearly, merely expressing the desire to have bustling downtown retail is not having much impact on real-world conditions. Even worse, attitudes in Provo regarding density vary significantly, with many people either disliking it or not really understanding what it is or why it matters.

As applied to Provo, Yglesias’ post isn’t groundbreaking. Density has always been the answer. However, hopefully it helps the community see that there is one very clear and simple way to get more stores in downtown.

A string of buildings in downtown, some of which are empty. What to get more cool stores in downtown? Just add density.


Filed under Downtown, economics

6 responses to “The Way to Get More Retail Downtown

  1. What’s interesting however is that for those people who understand the argument to be density the question then becomes how to cause or increase the level of density.

    We are based in Detroit which I’m sure is very similar to Provo in the sense of downtown retail and a population that lives downtown. Our problem would be density as well; however, how do you get people to move downtown or to these cities. What is the driver in Provo to get people down there. We have Dan Gilbert who has purchased many properties and is working to get people downtown and there is the Live Downtown program. But when I think of these kind of cities compared to NYC or Chicago, to get people to live downtown (the density solution) there must be a population of people able to afford living and being downtown. NYC and Chicago have the tourist attraction of people who can afford to go and shop downtown and the incomes for people to live downtown (which is oftentimes much more expensive).

    Density is only one problem but I would argue looking at the overall city and saying what is the city’s ability to generate a higher incomes and attract more people. High density cities have strong economies that attract density.

    Good article.

    • Thanks so much for reading! I absolutely agree with you that actually getting density is a struggle. In particular, Provo also really struggles with getting sufficient incomes to support density. That, and jobs generally, is probably the real challenge, though as far as this blog goes my hope is that at least some people will stop hating density and embrace it. But yeah, I wish my city would invest more in business development and job creation; we have some good economic development incentives right now, but they’re not really focused on the real root of the problem.

      All of this is to say that it sounds like our problems are pretty similar, and I’m not sure how to approach it. We are lucky because we have a college and we’re smaller than Detroit, so the college has a huge impact on the city economy. Our city leaders are also trying to bring in more education, which seems like a positive development.

      • Speaking of education, I believe that a decently sized educational institution with a good reputation in the region or outside of the region has the potential to be a significant economic development generator. The perfect example would be Ann Arbor where the University of Michigan was built first and then the city came after.

        Provo has a good name and if the university or college their could partner with the city and other nonprofits or even yourself and lend its reputation to the development of the city maybe something can be done.
        For example, incentive programs to commuters to live in particular neighborhoods in the city or one that I personally am going to try to push at my Alma mater the University of Detroit Mercy which is obtaining grant funding to sponsor a college-wide annual contest to open a business in the immediate area of the college.

        I look forward to learning more about Provo through your blog and you should check out The City Scribe. We do not focus so much on built environment as I am not an architect but more on the cultural, economic, and political developments and efforts of the millennial generation to transform communities, but maybe we could collaborate on a few things.

        Check us out.

  2. Pingback: Why Density Matters | (pro(vo)cation)

  3. Pingback: Density Is Needed Everywhere In Provo | (pro(vo)cation)

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