Provo launches information website for students

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Provo Mayor John Curtis noticed BYU students are often overlooked by the city’s government infrastructure, even though the almost 33,000 students on campus comprise a third of Provo’s population.

Perhaps it’s because the campus population gets picked up, shaken and scattered like the snowflakes in a snow globe at the end of each semester. Perhaps it’s because the campus is students’ world in a more tangible way than the overlaying municipality.

“The mayor, since he’s been the mayor, he’s kind of felt that Provo’s been disconnected from the student population,” said Dustin Grabau, management intern at the mayor’s office.

Provo4students.org is a new guide to life in Provo for students.

After starting research in June, Grabau and other city officials decided the best way to reconnect with the student population would be through their recently launched website, provo4students.org, which is designed to give students helpful information about living in Provo.

“I identified a website kind of as low hanging fruit,” Grabau said. “It was something that we could do that would be easy, that would be useful and would be helpful.”

Grabau with Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Parker, interns and others looked at other college city websites to see what important topics were covered.

“The target is to bridge the gap between students coming from places that aren’t familiar with how things work in Provo,” Grabau said.

The site focuses on nine informational topics:  transportation, parking, living in Provo, volunteering, events and entertainment, finding employment, downtown, city government and social media connections.

“The goal is to head off some of the questions they might have, provide an information resource that is more convenient because a lot of the information is there,” Grabau said.

Each section of provo4students.org provides a quick explanation of what is available, maps of Provo, links to relative websites and even videos to make thinks, such as driving, more understandable to non-native Utahns.

“The idea is to kind of encourage students to look around and see what kind of amenities Provo has to offer,” Grabau said, “because, actually, we have a lot of number of parks, amount of trails and we often don’t get commended for the amount of trees we have in the city.”

As they chose the categories for provo4students.org, one of the first areas the city knew it had to address was parking.

“Every time Mayor Curtis meets with students he invariably gets asked about parking,” Grabau said. “That’s the number one issue that students ask him about, that there’s not enough basically.” But creating additional parking is expensive. Each new stall in a parking lot would cost about $200 per month, which would increase the rent in housing complexes. An explanation of costs involved in creating new parking helps explain to students why the city doesn’t have an initiative to carve out more off-campus parking.

In the past, Provo has made efforts to reach out to students, but the inconsistency of students has made it hard to make anything last. There have been student committees, such as the Student Provo Student Alliance, that attempted to get students involved, but the membership turnaround on such committees every semester made it difficult to make any real progress.

“Part of the challenge has been sort of what I would probably define as comparable to a short attention span,” Parker said. “In other words, they’ll be engaged for a semester then work, family or school takes precedent.”

Mayor Curtis has also done question-and-answer sessions with BYU students, but time spent on the parking issue has crowded out other issues. The city is hoping the website will answer some of the basic questions so more issues can be addressed.

Students should have a voice in city government, Grabau said. “They are a big chunk of Provo society that isn’t either interested or they’re overlooked, or, for a variety of reasons, isn’t as engaged as they should be.

“Provo used to be in arms against students and now Provo is embracing students. Now the city it trying to embrace students and it is up to students to take that up a notch and take advantage of the opportunities the city has extended to them.”

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