Category Archives: Provo

John Curtis’ 2013 Wish List

Mayor Curtis enjoys a spectacularly high approval rating and it’s probably because he has great ideas. Case in point, his 2013 “dream list“:

  • A respectable campaign season with everyone acting like adults
  • More scheduled flights at the airport (this one stays on the list from last year)
  • Take Vision 2030 to the next level (we need to look out 50 years into the future)
  • Ditch our reputation as the towing and booting capitol of the Universe
  • More, more, more social media (ugh – that means I need to tweet)
  • Start a public dialog about a new City Center building
  • Increase our growing national reputation as a “cool” city

Those are all great goals. I’m particularly excited for the idea of looking further down the road, as I think we should be taking the long when it comes to development. For example, I’ve recently had conversations with people during which I argued that Provo is going to be amazing in 200 years. I think we need to seriously consider really long term scenarios, and I love that Mayor Curtis is pushing that sort of thinking. In the end, Provo isn’t going to be great for future generations unless we start making big improvements now.

It's probably time to replace this building, which serves as the city hall.

It’s probably time to replace this building, which serves as the city hall.

I also appreciate the fact that Mayor Curtis wants to start a dialog about a new city center — which I previously argued was desperately needed (also see this follow up that includes examples of great city halls) — and that he wants to grow the city’s reputation as a cool place. That’s an idea that I’ve previously described as mystique, and which can have significant economic benefits. Clearly, there is a zeitgeist surrounding some of these issues right now.

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! Though posts are a bit more intermittent these days, they’ll be back in some degree of regularity after the holidays.

In the mean time, just imagine how much easier Santa’s job would be if people weren’t so spread out. Like all of us, Santa wastes more time in transit when people live in sprawling, needlessly low-density communities. That means Santa also expends more resources — reindeer feed, flying sleigh magic, personal stamina, etc. — just getting from place to place. The result is that he can’t spend those resources on presents for all of us. In other words, just like parents who would have more time and money to spend on their kids if they didn’t commute so much, Santa could be even more giving if we would just build better cities.

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Provo is a Bit Grinch-y

Over the weekend, The Atlantic Cities posted a piece about cities that are “real-life Whovilles with demographic characteristics that could turn even the strongest-willed holiday-merriment-haters into jolly good fellows.”

In other words, it’s about the merriest cities in America.

Provo typically ranks highly for volunteerism and giving generally, so I kind of expected to see it on the list. I was, however, disappointed. In fact according to the map included with the article, it’s not even in the top category.

The report on which the article is based, however, wasn’t about measurements of niceness. Instead, it was looking at a variety of city-related factors:

  • Population density: “greater amount of merry people within an area”
  • Costume rental stores per capita: “the Grinch can get his Santa disguise”
  • Selected retail outlets per capita: “more presents for the Grinch to steal and eventually return”
  • Meat markets per capita: “for the roast beast”
  • Musicians, singers, music directors, and composers per capita: “to first annoy, then touch the Grinch’s heart with singing”
  • Night-time light: “to draw the Grinch’s attention”
  • Hospitals per capita: “for the Grinch when his heart grows ‘three sizes that day’ “

The article — which doesn’t mention any Utah cities by name — is intentionally based on a somewhat silly idea so I’m not going too read to much into it. But it does make an important point: dense, vibrant cities offer the most opportunities for Christmas celebrating.

Holiday art by local school children adorns shop windows in downtown.

Holiday art by local school children adorns shop windows in downtown.

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New Twitter

For the last year or so my online presence has had a split personality. I’ve been tweeting out everything I can for this blog, and sometimes I’ve tweeted out information related to my work at the Daily Herald. I figured there was some reader overlap because I was reporting on a region that included Provo, the subject of this blog.

But these two types of tweets weren’t exactly compatible. When I covered the dump fire, for example, I was tweeting about an emergency in Saratoga Springs. It might have been interesting to blog readers, or not. And when I was tweeting about Provo and urbanism it may not have been interesting to newspaper readers.

Anyway, now that I’ve moved up to the Salt Lake Tribune this problem becomes even more pronounced. Ultimately, the audience for my reporting and the audience for this blog are growing apart.

To solve this problem, I’ve created a new twitter account for this blog and related urbanism news. It’s @provocationutah. I recommend following it because while I’ll still tweet Provo-related news from my old account, @jimmycdii, I’ll primarily use the new one for this blog. Think of it like following a publication, while the old account is like following a particular writer at that publication.

And finally, if you’re not on Twitter, I think you should join. I used to think it was pretty useless — hence the awful handle “jimmycdii” — but when I realized it functioned as a news aggregator I started liking it.

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Our Hearts Beat For Provo, Or, Your Questions Answered

As some readers know, I recently accepted a job at the Salt Lake Tribune. That means that after two years at the Daily Herald I will soon be working out of the Tribune’s office in The Gateway. I’m excited about this opportunity, as the Tribune is a highly respected newspaper. I’ll also miss my colleagues at the Daily Herald.

But perhaps more relevantly, I’ve been asked many times recently what this development means for the future of this blog. Will it continue? Will it change?

The short answer is that I don’t know. We’ll just have to see what happens and at this point nothing is off the table.

The long answer requires me to explain more about my personal situation than I usually do here.

First, I have loved writing this blog but it has literally taken over my life. About a year ago I decided I wanted it to function as a kind of local urbanism magazine where readers could click over any time and find something new. As a result, I post at least three times a day under the assumption that different posts appeal to different people.

Unfortunately, that has created an unsustainable posting schedule. I spend nearly a full time job’s worth of time writing, wandering around and reading a lot. Some posts are fast and easy to write, but the more images and sources I have to collect the longer it takes. Finding and inserting all the links for a post like this one, for example, can take a long time. And of course there are sources and posts — such as one about how Trader Joe’s is just another chain store — that I work on but ultimately opt not to publish at all.

As a result, I no longer do a lot of other things I love. I don’t play music. I don’t study film. I don’t write creatively (i.e. non-blog/journalism). I basically don’t go to concerts. I don’t cook. Last Christmas Laura gave me In Cold Blood and I still haven’t finished it.

I’m not complaining about this situation — I chose it and love it, actually — but my point is that I’ve felt for awhile now that I was probably going to have to dial things back. I need to have friends and family again. My soliciting guest posts in September was partially an attempt to alleviate this problem but unfortunately I’ve had a lot of interest but only a few (three) actual submissions.

This situation probably could have continued snowballing indefinitely, but two changes recently came up. The first was a potential opportunity to contribute to a project with a professional placemaker. It’s an exciting project that’d be a labor of love (as opposed to an immediate revenue-generating venture), but it’s one that arose out of my researching and writing this blog. So, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, “mission accomplished.”

Then, shortly after that opportunity arose the Tribune job happened. I assume it’s self evident why I’d take a job at a paper like the Tribune, but let me just say that I thought long and hard about not working day in and day out in Provo.

So, with these two new opportunities on the horizon, there will almost certainly be some changes coming to this blog. I do not currently have two hours of free time a day, so a two hour commute will significantly cut down on my ability to blog.

But while the commute may be forcing my hand, it’s really a change that has been coming for a while. That doesn’t mean the blog is going away, it’s just an admission that I’ve let the pursuit of increasing page views get out of hand and something has to give.

So there’s that.

I’ve also been asked if Laura and I plan to move to Salt Lake. And again, the short answer is that I don’t know. I hope that the existence of this blog is evidence enough that I do indeed love Provo. I consider it to have superior potential to Salt Lake.

Still, commuting — something I’ve criticized over and over again on this blog — for two hours a day sounds awful and Laura and I have considered moving. Just admitting that makes me feel like I’m cheating on my wife, or abandoning my child. But in any case Provo is a city that will continue to get cooler whether I’m here or not. I take solace in that fact. And again, we’re in Provo right now and have just considered moving.

It’s also worth pointing out that if we temporarily leave Provo, we will come back better for the experience; I admire people who have lived in and learned from a variety of places. I aspire to be that kind of person myself so that when I come home I’m that much more experienced.

And that’s my point. If we do end up living in Salt Lake (and that’s still “if”) we will be planning to return. We like it. We consider it home and no matter where we are, our hearts beat for Provo.

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Schools and Recreation: The Keys to Keeping Millennials

When my parents and still-living-at-home younger siblings moved to Utah five and a half years ago, they opted to live in Cedar Hills. The choice meant they could afford a big house in a quiet neighborhood. They’re surrounded by a golf course, running trails, a brook and a lot of people very similar to them.

But more than anything else, they chose their new location for the schools; my sisters are currently attending Lone Peak High School, even though my dad has alternately worked in Provo and Salt Lake and my step-mom works out of the airport. In other words, they accepted long commutes so their kids could go to one of the best schools in the area.

A recent USA Today article explores a similar situation, but for the millennial generation (my generation), which is bigger and consequently more economically potent than even the baby boomers. The article mentions that cities have successfully lured young people to downtowns, but as that generation ages and has kids keeping them there will be a challenge. Most significantly, that’s because as people get older they start looking out for their kids’ education:

“This Millennial generation is the generation that decides where it’s going to live before it decides what it’s going to do,” says William Fulton, president of policy and research at Smart Growth America, a non-profit national coalition against suburban sprawl. “The stakes are very high. … There are two big quality-of-life things that become important when you have kids: schools and recreational activities.”

Provo has perhaps benefited less than other cities from the rush into downtowns — though that is changing now — but in any case the message is that the key to maintaining younger populations is having good schools and high quality of life. The article also mentions adequate family housing, walkability, and good transit as major selling points for young families. All of those things are common topics on this blog.

Provo is improving in many of these areas, but what about schools? Five years ago, my parents were able to look up Utah County and find figures telling them that Alpine School District was the best. Relatedly, while good news trickles out from Provo at least weekly about some new transit or housing development, public education is rarely talked about. Think about it, when was the last time you heard someone raving about how great Provo schools were? For me, the answer is never.

Provo schools are doing great things, such as this recently-built school. But the city needs a reputation for educational excellence if it is going to succeed long-term.

Provo schools are doing great things, such as this recently-built school. But the city needs a reputation for educational excellence if it is going to succeed long-term.

This situation is probably the result of fewer funds, insufficient PR — some Provo schools are great, after all, and sometimes they earn well-deserved recognition — and long-held perceptions about the area. But the fact remains that until Provo earns a reputation for a place with great education it will consistently struggle to compete for talent with surrounding cities.

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Cut the Mountains Some Slack

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a video of people slack lining in the mountains above Provo. It’s rather stunning.

I’ve been arguing all along that Provo’s mountains are among its greatest assets but this video makes that point strikingly clear.

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