Provo looks to ‘urbanity’ to revitalize downtown

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    By Daniel Ransom

    New York has it. Boston too. Chicago? No question. Even small town Albuquerque”s got it.

    But Provo? Not quite.

    It is called urbanity, a distinct social atmosphere that combines work, play, housing and culture, all without leaving the comforts of the neighborhood.

    City planning experts think it is exactly what Provo needs to revitalize a struggling downtown.

    “Everything is integrated, walk-able and within 1,500 feet,” said new urbanism pioneer Chris Leinberger, as he addressed the Provo public Tuesday night. “You walk out of your high density housing, walk around restaurants, walk to work and you don”t have to use your car. That”s the urbanity.”

    The new urban vision may create a downtown closely resembling a miniature New York City, where buildings efficiently combine high-end storefronts, executive office space, luxury housing and private parking into a multi-use facility.

    Leinberger”s resume is filled with downtown revitalization projects from around the world, including his recent revamping of downtown Albuquerque, which is exactly why city planners invited Leinberger to assess Provo”s situation and give a recommendation for downtown”s future.

    “We”re looking to cities like Albuquerque as an example of what can be done in the downtown,” said Susan Bradford, executive director of the Downtown Business Alliance. “Of course, Provo is it”s own breed of city, so not everything that worked in Albuquerque will work in Provo.”

    Despite the differences, the principles remain the same: create an integrated downtown with multiple-use buildings. The result is a housing density 30 times more dense than the suburbs.

    “Without a downtown, you don”t have a living room, you don”t have a community room that the entire town can come together,” Leinberger said. “It just doesn”t exist.”

    The idea of a gathering place could cater well to a large student population in Provo.

    James McMurray, president of the New Urbanism Club at BYU, said students simply do not have a legitimate place to hang out.

    “It will give students another choice, as opposed to just the standard mall experience, but it will give them a choice that is just a little more real,” McMurray said. “The mall setting is too artificial.”

    And Leinberger said students not only desire a new urban experience, but they will thrive in the environment.

    “Students are some of the great urban pioneers,” he said.

    BYU is more than a mile away from downtown, and for a truly urban experience, a shuttle system would need to be created to maintain the car-less nature of downtown.

    Provo residents can begin seeing the effects of the progressive movement this winter. The Wells Fargo building, one of Provo”s first multiuse buildings is scheduled to open in January.

    The full process for converting downtown will be completed in phases, potentially taking years to complete.

    The timeline and specific plans have yet to be determined, but the desired goal remains the same.

    “There probably is some sense of a 24-hour community,” said Mayor Lewis K. Billings. “Work. Live. Play. Enjoy the arts. Those kinds of things are in the downtown future. That”s what we are trying to define.”

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