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Jelalian: The tale of two Provos

By Matthew Jelalian - | Feb 12, 2017

Normally people divide themselves into two camps.

You’ve got Republicans and Democrats. Rich and the poor. Law-abiding citizens and criminals. Yankees fans and everyone else on the planet.

No one falls into any one group 100 percent all of the time but people who disagree will naturally form groups of like minded people.

It’s no different in Provo.

The main difference is that Provo doesn’t seem to divide over party lines.

I attended Sherrie Hall Everett’s mayoral campaign kickoff and I found quite the variety of attendees. When business owners Tosh Metzger, an openly gay liberal, and Chad Pritchard, an openly Mormon conservative, can join forces, you know that it’s not necessarily a religious or party divide here in Provo.

So how exactly does Provo’s partisan lines fall?

That was one of the many questions political activists discussed last week.

Self-described Provo political pundit Ryan Frandsen started the discussion in the Provo Forward Facebook community.

“I think in Provo there isn’t a conservative or liberal party,” Frandsen said. “But there is a two party system nevertheless; The Neighborhood Party and the Economic Development party. Most issues, people, positions, and arguments tend to generally fall into these two categories. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive (and look where that got me) but they do tend to serve a political purpose. Depending on the issue you will usually see people divide into these two camps.”

Some agreed with Frandsen while others disagreed as is usual for such debates. The thread even had Hall Everett trying to make a more nuanced point that one can bridge the gap and have both strong neighborhoods and strong economies.

This discussion inspired another Provo activist, Melanie McCoard to conduct an informal poll in the Facebook group Our Provo.

The idea behind the poll was to see what Our Provo members saw the two camps as.

First place was “New Urbanists vs Let Provo be Provo,” and second place was “Plan Provo’s changes vs Keep Provo the Same.” Third place was “Provo residents trying to build community vs real estate and rental industrial complex trying to extract as much money as possible.”

Personally I think the top three were all saying the same thing just from a different perspective.

Let’s look at BRT as an individual example.

One side looks at the BRT issue as a solution. They see our population growing and believe our streets won’t get any less congested unless we provide an alternative to cars. In their eyes, BRT serves a second purpose by cutting down on emissions that cause our air problems to worsen.

It’s safe to think that some BRT supporters probably look at the anti-BRT movement as a group who would rather keep Provo the same rather than plan for it’s future. It’s easy to see how a BRT supporter could look at a detractor and say, “Why are you afraid of progress? Good transportation is good for the economy and good for people.”

However a detractor from BRT may look at things very differently.

They may see BRT as a massive expenditure of government funds that won’t turn a profit. They may equate public transport with urban living and with that comes renting over buying. They might worry how much renters would legitimately invest in their neighborhoods and communities.

A BRT detractor might look at a supporter and ask “what problems do you think you’re solving and do you realize the problems you might create by doing this?”

No matter what divides the aisle or what side of it you find yourself on, it’s clear to me that there are at least two groups who feel like their wants and needs are important and both actively work to fulfill their vision of Provo.

These needs don’t need to divide us to the point of no return.

There is no reason why we can’t have the best of both worlds in Provo.

As Sherrie Hall Everett said in the Provo Forward Facebook group, we can bridge the gap. There is no reason to think a strong economy can’t strengthen our neighborhoods and that developing our neighborhoods won’t help improve the economy.

There’s no reason why we can’t have a mix of free-standing homes as well as high-population housing. People who live in apartments can be just as much part of a community as a homeowner.

Just ask any New Yorker what they think of New Jersey and you’ll see them bleed Empire State.

The trick is to figure out what both camps want and how to give it to both of them.

Station 22 owner Richard Gregory illustrated this perfectly when he addressed the failed attempt to get a City Council-approved brewery.

Gregory explained that when he first came to Provo he wasn’t aware of how different it would be culturally from Napa Valley, California.

When he couldn’t get his liquor license, he met the people halfway and decided to make craft pop instead.

His financial contributions to create a brewery in Provo kept this compromise in mind.

“Our brewery was intended to be a place where people can come together, where Mormons and non can all hang out in a place with food & drinks and good times, celebrating the craft of making something with your own two hands,” Gregory said on his post in Provo Forward. “I’m sorry to say, but that hardly exists in Provo. The two sides rarely mix socially, except in certain restaurants where, not coincidentally, alcohol is generally served. I had visions of sitting at a big picnic table eating wings and drinking a handcrafted beer while my LDS brothers sat across from me, drinking a frosty herbal brew and talking about old times and how glad that we are that we built a city where all perspectives are welcomed.”

This is what I want Provo to become.

I want that frosty herbal brew as non-Mormon friends throw back a beer. I want renters and owners to sit side-by-side and talk about how neighborhoods and economic development can strengthen each other.

I want Provo’s activists to look at the same problems from different angles rather than as partisans whose solutions completely oppose one another.

None of us will always get everything we want out of Provo but we can get what we need.

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