One recurring theme on this blog has been infill, or adding buildings to existing neighborhoods. So for example, that means developing under-used land — in the form of parking lots, vacant lots, driveways, or even some existing structures — into things like new housing.
A recent report by the EPA stresses the importance of infill:
These examples of residential infill—or building new homes in previously developed areas—can help to expand housing choices, make neighborhoods livelier, increase the tax base, safeguard rural landscapes, reduce infrastructure costs, and protect natural resources. Infill can also provide significant environmental benefits when compared with conventional greenfield1 suburban development— including reduced transportation emissions from new residents and reduced stormwater pollution washing off of new roadways and other paved surfaces.
The report goes on to explore how prevalent infill is and where there might be room for improvement.
In Provo, we need only to step outside our front doors to see opportunities for improvement. Big driveways, parking lots, poorly built track homes, and even wide streets could all be converted to higher performing development. And while Provo is laudably making this happen in commercial zones, that’s not even close to sufficient. Ultimately, the city must make infill a reality in existing residential neighborhoods — where there is acre after acre of useable land — if it wants to outperform or just keep up with other growing Utah County communities.
Among other things, the report includes a map (page 9) that shows how much of new development is infill. Provo is on the lower end of the spectrum. Significantly, it’s also experiencing less infill than the Salt Lake metro region. That’s bad news for a city that needs to compete for talent. It’s also bad news for a city that is landlocked and surrounded by other cities because it means people are forced to reside in other municipalities.
There are many obstacles — political will, zoning, infrastructure limitations, etc. — to making residential infill happen. But in the end if those obstacles become excuses to do nothing they will end up being the very reasons that Provo was beaten in the race for talent, prosperity and growth by other cities.