No One Likes A Boring Neighborhood

As some people know, Laura and I have been staying with my parents in Cedar Hills for the last little bit as we figure out our living situation in response to my job at the Tribune.

Living in Cedar Hills makes a lot of sense for us; Laura can walk to work and because I have to have a car anyway, it makes the most sense for me to drive (as opposed to Laura) to the office.

But here’s the thing, Cedar Hills is so soul-crushingly boring we would never consider living there, no matter how convienient it was. Seriously, not long ago we had a 30 minute discussion about whether we should walk to the Walmart — the only thing within walking distance — and wander around, or if we should just sit around doing nothing. That pretty much sums up our choices. There aren’t even any non-chain restaurants within biking distance.

This is a familiar experience to many people living in single-use, suburban style neighborhoods, but some cities may be underestimating the importance of liveliness as a selling point.

To that end, The Washington Post and Planetizen recently ran a couple of posts on becoming “hip” to attract young professionals:

The panel, whose members are still being recruited, will consider everything from loosened liquor laws and noise ordinances to relaxed regulations covering urban amenities that connect people: food trucks, cafes, outdoor movies. “You have to make the county more appealing,” Leggett said. “You have to make sure that sense of vitality is there.”

This is similar to the theory of change promoted for the past decade by University of Toronto urbanist Richard Florida, who says cities can regenerate economically by attracting a robust “creative class.” That means young professionals in technology fields along with musicians, artists, gay people, writers and creative elites he calls “high bohemians.”

This is standard “creative class” stuff that I’ve covered over and over on this blog, but the point still remains: fostering vitality is as important as anything if you want people to actually live in your city.

Provo's 100 Block — or the area around Velour — is often bustling. But a successful city can't have just one cool spot (that appeals to a small group at that). This type of vitality needs to be studied and encouraged all over.

Provo’s 100 Block — or the area around Velour — is often bustling. But a successful city can’t have just one cool spot (that appeals to a small group at that). This type of vitality needs to be studied and encouraged all over.

Provo does a fair job at this, all things considered, but I still know a lot of people who leave Provo or won’t consider it in the first place, because there’s nothing for them to do. The more time I spend in Salt Lake the more of these people I meet, and I’m surprised when I find myself agreeing that there probably isn’t anything for them in Provo. If you don’t want to play in an indie band or see very Mormon jokes, what is there to do really? Relatedly, if you’re older than, say, 26, there’s also not much for you to do.

I once even had a friend who even gave Provo a try, but moved up to Salt Lake less than a year later — despite working in Provo — because there was no social scene.

There are a few lessons. For example, Provo needs a more diverse “hip” atmosphere. A great music scene doesn’t appeal to everyone and can be hard to break into, so there need to be many more options. And it’s not impossible for civic and business leaders to cultivate a more diverse cultural environment.

It’s also worth considering the LDS single adult scenes in south Salt Lake County. They’re legendary and Provo loses people to those areas. For people who are not LDS, there is even less to do in Provo.

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8 Comments

Filed under arts, neighborhood

8 responses to “No One Likes A Boring Neighborhood

  1. Seems like there have been a few attempts at opening places that I think might fit that description but they always close down. I’d be interested on your thoughts on how you think Provo could get places like that to stay long enough to attract the diverse hip crowds?

    • That’s a good question. If I were mayor, I’d be tempted to just use city money to subsidize it. I doubt a lot of more established, middle age people would like that, but I think it’d would and eventually pay for itself many time over. Barring that, though, I’d create start up incubators (which Provo is actually doing) and I’d relax zoning significantly so that people could live where ever they want (adapted commercial space, for example). That would make it possible to get more people in downtown areas (density) which would significantly bolster the types of things (clubs, restaurants, etc) could be economically supported. I’d also go after schools; I’d try to get more educational institutions in a centralized area b/c they’re somewhat insulated from market fluctuations and because they put a bunch if people in a centralized spot.

      One interesting thing i your area that is related to this is Zappos, which is making a lot of investments in Vegas. I haven’t been down there to specifically check it out, but I’ve read about how zappos is trying to create a whole lifestyle center in the city in order to attract talent. That’ll be really interesting to see, i think, because the Vegas climate is so harsh that it makes a lot of the lifestyle thing that are popular in other places hard to do. But they’re getting a lot buzz about it so it’ll be an interesting experiment to watch.

      • Yeah, the Zappos guy has some greatideas and ambitions. I’m hoping he is able to get them to actually happen because Las vegas desperately needs some revitalization as far as offerings for the locals go. Actually, I think a lot of the things you discuss on this blog are things that the Vegas area should take into account. I think we have even more of a sprawl problem because we didn’ t have the rockies and Utah Lake to limit us in how much we could expand. We’ve got enormous, walker- unfriendly streets and no real downtown unless you count the strip, which I don’t. It’s not a real downtown either. Maybe you should come visit and do a comparison between Provo and Las Vegas.

  2. Joanna

    I disagree that there’s is nothing to do in Provo if you are not LDS. I am not LDS or a member of any other organized religion and yet I find that there is enough to do in Provo during those times I stay here temporarily for business, and my regular place of abode is NYC. I think anybody can appreciate the great events that they have at BYU, the recreation center, water park, ice skating rink, hiking Y mountain, biking Provo river trail, Sundance, Covey Center, dancing downtown (salsa, swing, country, etc.), The Madison nightclub. The problem is that most people don’t actively look for things to do. The only complaint I have heard about Provo from a social perspective is that non-Mormons complain that LDS members do not have time to be friends with them (too busy with church/family?). In many ways I would prefer to be in Salt Lake City, but I think Provo has a much more beautiful setting being set up against the mountains. The problem I see is that people have dishonored the gorgeous natural setting of Provo and built ugly sprawl. It could be such a great destination …… That is why I appreciate your blog because you recognize that Provo has potential to be nice.

    • I couldn’t agree more about the sprawl. I’m also glad you’ve found Provo to not be boring; I never really thought it was myself until I meet a bunch of people who kept saying it was. I’m not sure what their problem was.

  3. I like this article. I live in Highland. You should come over to our house where it is extremely not boring. I am looking forward to moving to Provo though, I can’t wait to bike to work. I agree it’s difficult for non-Mormons in Utah Valley, the Mormon culture is downright oppressive if not because of specific attitudes then at least in sheer volume.

  4. So many great points!

  5. Pingback: A Few Food Things | (pro(vo)cation)

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