Tag Archives: detroit

Poverty Levels in Provo Are Too High

Earlier this week I reported that Provo’s median income is lower than the cities to which it is most often compared. And though the situation may be improving, that still means residents have less money to spend in the local economy, among other things, which naturally translates into a comparatively depressed commercial sector.

But the bad news doesn’t stop there.

Perhaps the most alarming figure in the census data is the number of people in Provo living below poverty level: 31 percent. And just like median income, that figure compares unfavorably with all the other cities I’ve been looking at*:

As is apparent, poverty levels in every other city hover near 20 percent, or roughly 10 points lower than Provo’s level.

By way of comparison, Provo has a higher percentage of people living below poverty level than old, eastern industrial cities like Buffalo (29.6), Cincinnati (27.2), and Pittsburgh (21.9). Next door in Orem — where there is another large university whose students are no wealthier than Provo’s — just 13.5 percent of the population is living in poverty.

In fact, Provo’s poverty levels aren’t much lower than those in Detroit (34.5), and Detroit is notorious for its decimated manufacturing sector and for its struggles with poverty.

Some people will look at these figures and immediately want to explain them. Provo, for example, has a lot of students. Many of those students support themselves, marry earlier than other young people, and have kids quickly. Provo also has a history as a blue collar town meaning many of the city’s older residents never became very high wage earners.

There is a lot of truth to these explanations. But it’s important to remember that all of the cities included on the graph have students as well. Chattanooga and Ogden also both have state schools without huge research agendas and in the latter case many students are even members of the LDS Church (the same is true in Orem). In other words, I chose these cities because they each represent a different kind of college town.

But most importantly, these explanations are beside the point. Whatever the causes, if Provo’s residents are poorer than those in other cities Provo will have less economic vibrancy. In other words, explanations themselves won’t change the problem, which is that lower incomes and more poverty are one big reason Provo feels less successful than other cities.

With higher poverty rates than other cities, it makes sense that Provo would have similarly higher vacancy rates in downtown buildings.

It’s also worth mentioning that people in Provo should be embarrassed by these figures. For strategic reasons, I’ve typically chosen to make mostly economic arguments on this blog — so for example that more money means greater vibrancy. But it’s also simply wrong for nearly 1 in 3 people in our city to be certifiably poor. Provo is a young, educated, business friendly community; having such a high poverty rate is unacceptable. It’s morally outrageous. And, unlike Rust Belt cities, it’s almost never discussed.

In any case, it also effects everyone because wealth and resources are factors that make or break places like Downtown Provo. If the community wants to be as thriving as other cities, these rates will need to change.

*For the next few posts I’m going to be sticking with my original five cities simply because it takes time to compile and graph all of this information. Some readers have suggested several other great possible additions and I hope to discuss them in the future, but for now the cities I’ve included seem to have sufficient diversity to make the point.

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Filed under Development, Downtown, economics

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Provo is beefing up its urban food production and those efforts are drawing national attention. But if the city and its employees can only do so much, how can Provo continue to grow greener?

An award winning project in Detroit suggests that corporate sponsorship might be one answer. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, Lafayette Greens is a sponsored project that

brings urban agriculture, community gardening, productive landscapes and the entire conversation about the food movement into the heart of downtown Detroit. A productive vegetable garden that also functions as an engaging public space, it is a tangible expression of the possibilities for integrating urban agriculture into city spaces and city life in a way that is participatory, beautiful and productive.

The project is just under half an acre and occupies the site of a recently demolished building. It’s owned by Compuware.

The site of a vacant lot in Detroit is now a corporate-sponsored community garden.

From the look of it, this garden appears like it has the potential to become a great space and if nothing else it’s vastly superior to the demolition site it replaced. The project is also designed with long-term sustainability in mind, which can be a problem in un-sponsored community gardens.

There’s also no reason something similar wouldn’t work in Provo. Downtown has fewer corporations than Detroit, but there are corporate headquarters in the area and they might be amenable to something along these lines. Nu Skin and the LDS Church are even planning garden space right now, so making the leap to edible plants isn’t so far fetched.

What seems to be lacking is merely the will to do this. Has anyone contacted Nu Skin, for example, and asked them to plant zucchini or blackberries? I doubt it.

In the end, this project in Detroit creates an interesting public space and offers the chance to produce more food. Those are both things that would be valuable additions to Provo.

People growing various edible plants in downtown Detroit.

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Filed under Food