Downtown Provo and New Urbanism: Residential Case Studies

A. Paul Glauser, AICP - CNU Utah Board Member

Downtown Provo has seen a variety of new residential and mixed-use development in recent years in both the downtown and the nearby area north of the UTA Frontrunner station/transit center. New urbanist principles are visible in these developments to varying degrees. They provide good lessons in what works in city center housing and where things could have been better with a little more attention to key variables – lessons which can benefit cities throughout Utah. 


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New Urbanism and Downtown Provo Residential Development

Plainly, downtown housing is not for everyone, and the Congress for the New Urbanism would never advocate for it becoming the universal norm. That would fly in the face of providing people a full range of housing opportunities. But for decades, many communities have made single-family detached homes their near-universal norm. At the same time, communities across the US – and in Utah -- are finding, again and again, that downtown forms of housing appeal to a sizeable portion of the population – a housing market which many cities have resisted serving. For example, in Provo a 2007 Dan Jones & Associates poll found that about 35% of households would consider downtown housing if it were available in their price range. Thirty-five percent is certainly not everyone, but it is a sizeable segment of the housing market, one that cannot be dismissed.

Provo City has tried to meet the demand for downtown housing in several ways. The City’s recently-adopted Downtown Master Plan acknowledges the role which compact downtown-type housing needs to play, and development codes have been revised to foster this type of development. The Provo Redevelopment Agency, a Utah community development agency, also identifies the place for such housing in recent community development project areas it has established. The Redevelopment Agency has also applied its statutory powers to incentivize investment in such residential projects. In 2014, the Redevelopment Agency also published a “Downtown Provo Placemaking Best Practices Handbook”, basically a manual of new urbanist principles which relate directly to downtown Provo.

May 17 Walking Tour of New Downtown Provo Housing

On May 17, 2017, the Congress for the New Urbanism – Utah Chapter (CNU-U) is conducting a walking tour of downtown Provo and the adjacent Frontrunner area. The tour will stop at three developments and include brief presentations by their developers on how their project concepts evolved, what has worked well, and what lessons can be learned from them. At the last stop on the tour there will be time for a discussion on what the tour group saw and heard how the lessons learned can help the evolution of downtown housing in communities across Utah.

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The Congress for the New Urbanism: Advocating for Better Places for People

In at least two ways, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is unique among organizations concerned with better urban development: first, CNU espouses a specific set of principles for making better cities. These principles draw heavily on the qualities found in successful cities for decades or even centuries and are summed up in the Charter of the New Urbanism. They include such concepts as the promotion of infill development within existing urban areas; utilizing transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems to maximize access and mobility while reducing dependence upon the automobile; and the development and redevelopment of towns and cities which respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries, to name but a few of these concepts. Second, CNU is not about any particular profession, but is about promoting a shared set of ideas across a range of professions and roles. CNU members are a mixed bag of design professionals, developers, government officials, private citizens, financiers, and others, united in jointly applying the principles of the Charter to our cities as cities evolve. This very interdisciplinary approach promises the best, most comprehensive approaches to complex urban problems.

Regarding downtowns and downtown housing in particular, the Charter of the New Urbanism stands for:

• Compact development with ample, usable open space
• Juxtaposition of residential and commercial land uses in close, convenient proximity to each other
• “Fine-grain” development, i.e., smaller-scale development projects which result in a more natural, incremental, not overly-master-planned feel
• Housing opportunities at a full range of prices

About the author: Paul Glauser AICP has worked in urban planning and redevelopment in communities across Utah for over 38 years. In 2014, he retired as Director of the Provo City Redevelopment Agency. Since then, he has served in several volunteer capacities, including two years' volunteer service for his church promoting self-reliance in Russia. He now serves on the CNU-Utah Board and as Chair of the CNU-U Membership Committee.