Guest: Let’s unlock the potential in Orem’s neighborhoods
Beginning in 2014, Orem’s government invited residents to engage in a neighborhood planning process with city staff. For planning purposes, Orem’s 22 neighborhoods were grouped into nine districts that led to the development of nine “neighborhood plans.” I applaud the city’s efforts to engage residents on the highest priorities in their neighborhood. Most people in Orem are happy about the quality of life in their neighborhood.
Unfortunately, most residents don’t even know that they have a neighborhood plan, the neighborhood committees that provided input into those plans no longer exist, and residents across Orem feel that the qualities that they value most about their neighborhood are under threat.
I know this because I recently launched a neighborhood insights initiative that seeks local input from residents in each of Orem’s 22 neighborhoods. By conducting neighborhood-specific surveys and hosting neighborhood discussions based on the priorities in each neighborhood’s plan, I have been able to better understand what matters most to residents in different locations throughout Orem.
While this initiative will continue to collect input into early 2022, hundreds of people have already shared their thoughts on the ways that we can better preserve and strengthen neighborhoods in Orem. Here are a few of the emerging insights:
First, we need to do more to nurture neighborhood identities and to protect them from development decisions outside of their control. Many people don’t know what neighborhood they are in and most neighborhoods have no signs indicating the name of the neighborhood. Outside of church events, many neighborhoods have few neighborhood gatherings that bring the local community together. Rebuilding neighborhood committees and empowering them with the opportunity to spend grant money can help increase identification and affection for the neighborhood.
Most people in neighborhoods chose to live there because they like the area and many are fearful about how their neighborhood will change due to development. This fear is amplified by processes that shield a potential developer’s intentions from the public until the planning process is well underway. It is critical that city officials remain 100% independent from developers and that we give neighborhoods real insight, transparency, and voice regarding the ways in the neighborhood might change in the future. Neighborhoods must become critical partners to help shape that future.
Second, we need to get our transportation infrastructure and mobility options right for neighborhoods to feel truly livable. One of the most consistent concerns voiced among our respondents is that Orem’s traffic is too busy, it is hard to turn onto major roads, and that some intersections feel unsafe. While the 2020 census indicates that Orem grew by an average of 1% a year over the last decade, traffic in the city has grown much faster than that. This is largely because of rapid development in neighboring communities that use Orem as a throughway.
Some of the best things we can do to increase the quality of life for Orem’s residents include building alternate routes for those transiting through the city, investing in the best traffic management systems that we can find, creating multiple transportation options that help get cars off of the road, and prioritizing safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Finally, we need to invest in fair local decision processes that build trust and enable people to come together to create the neighborhood that they want. Neighborhoods are more than a collection of residences, but a joint project of community identification. We love where we live when we are invested in our neighbors.
We invest in our neighbors when we have something to create together, whether it be community events, consequential decisions, a shared space, or when we rally around someone in need. We need our neighborhood committees back to serve as a hub for local organization. We need an Orem Youth Council and an Orem Seniors Council to represent those underrepresented segments of our neighborhoods with the broader city.
We need our city-level neighborhood commission to develop a process to solicit neighborhood feedback that can be shared real time with our city planning and public works staff so that needs are rapidly addressed. I need to know that I have a way to provide feedback on my concerns that will make it to those with the ability to act.
Orem’s neighborhoods may have distinctive qualities, but every one is a wonderful place to live, and every one of them deserves to have a neighborhood committee that provides input into the city. Let’s take our neighborhood plans seriously and build on them with processes that give us the organization and tools to work with our neighbors to craft the future Orem that we all deserve.
Quinn Mecham is a candidate for Orem City Council.