GUEST POST by Ralph Spencer Steenblik
NewVistas is a holistic masterplanned community designed by the foundation bearing the same name, and conceived of by its founder Mr. David Hall. Heir to a synthetic diamond manufacturing company his innovative urban planning ideas are ruffling feathers in some of the neighborhoods which Hall is proposing the masterplan. He is currently purchasing properties in the target neighborhoods in order to accomplish his vision. Neighbors are upset by the situation and are suggesting that the initiative be taken elsewhere. Hall isn’t just battling disgruntled homeowners, he’s battling a much bigger problem; the pervasive low density sprawl and the seemingly comfortable lifestyle it provides.
Unfortunately, the suburban pattern of life in much of the US is not globally sustainable, and in fact dependent on developing countries. Suburban-sprawl causes more problems than it solves. Inexpensive construction on sprawling land made economic sense, but more factors than just economics must be considered, especially in organizing human habitat. Countless social-science studies show the longer your commute the greater the likelihood of obesity, depression, and divorce.
Innovative living solutions which address the current challenges must be adopted. Densification is the real solution to the transportation problems we face. 20,000 people per square mile is perfectly reasonable, and in fact is necessary, in order to maintain current global growth rates. Urban environments seem to elicit such negative responses, but if done well, the benefits can far outweigh the drawbacks. Simply put, this is the ambition of NewVistas.
Incremental evolutions addressing transportation challenges, such as: autonomous electric vehicles, and marginal increases in density through innovations such as Common and Airbnb, (all of which are under their own scrutiny due to regulatory hurdles), only begin to address the problem. As with many innovations, the upsides associated with NewVistas far outweigh the growing pains, especially regarding quality of life.
Actually executing better urban planning solutions is very difficult . Uniquely, Hall has the vision and the resources to attempt a more effective, and efficient living solution with a potentially global positive impact.
Some have called NewVistas gargantuan or compared it to a communist block, lacking personality. The NewVistas design has a near infinite degree of flexibility, allowing for open-ended diversity. The plan is a framework, where people can express their individuality. Ask yourself: what power is given to Mr. Hall if his plans are built? Only power over what he has built, nothing more.
Regarding the size of the project, especially in relation to surrounding single family homes, is the proposed single story, with greenhouse above, truly problematic? When looking out over the community, instead of seeing roofs: productive greenery.
Some say, “It may have upsides, but not in my backyard,” suggesting that such an experiment be undertaken where the stakes are lower, or where the community is in desperate need of outside investment. I cannot help but think of similar examples dotting the western United States including: Arcosanti, Biosphere II, or the Earthships of New Mexico. Respecting each attempt, it’s still hard to see them as much more than isolated experiments eventually reduced to tourist attractions.
An existing community fabric is much more resilient than people think. Diverse types of development are healthy. The amenities add strengths, benefits, and supplement others such that people living outside NewVistas will undoubtedly be enriched.
Although Provo, Utah seems like an unlikely place for such an experiment: is there a better place for an innovation in urban living? Hall has spent the better part of his life trying to unpack and extrapolate on these plans, and has the means to actually, in some small way, carry them out. It requires us, individually and collectively, to operate outside our comfort, but letting NewVistas take shape in our neighborhoods just might actually make the world a better place. NewVistas is an honest attempt at reaching for something better. Let us embrace the ambition if not for ourselves, for our children.