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39– Hometowns need vision. Here's your Helper, Jake Powell

October 20, 2020 Utah State University Office of Research Episode 39
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39– Hometowns need vision. Here's your Helper, Jake Powell
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39– Hometowns need vision. Here's your Helper, Jake Powell
Oct 20, 2020 Episode 39
Utah State University Office of Research

"A lot of these communities feel like they're inventing the wheel for the first time." 

In this episode of Instead, Wyatt sits down with USU researcher Jake Powell. The two discuss the Gateway, and Natural Amenity Resources Initiative aimed to provide resources to small towns seeing large growth.

https://www.usu.edu/gnar/

https://research.usu.edu/landscapes/

Show Notes Transcript

"A lot of these communities feel like they're inventing the wheel for the first time." 

In this episode of Instead, Wyatt sits down with USU researcher Jake Powell. The two discuss the Gateway, and Natural Amenity Resources Initiative aimed to provide resources to small towns seeing large growth.

https://www.usu.edu/gnar/

https://research.usu.edu/landscapes/

Jake Powell: [00:00:04] So we have a place that facilitates this adventure lifestyle that's becoming globally attractive, the communities that lack a sense of who they want to be and a really strong vision, people with a vision come in and set the vision.If your community doesn't already have it,

 

Wyatt: [00:00:23] Growing communities need to have a vision for their future. And today, you're going to meet one of the people who helped them develop that foresight.

 

Jake Powell: [00:00:31] Hi, I'm Jake Powell. I'm an extension specialist in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at Utah State University.

 

Wyatt: [00:00:39] In this episode, we'll show you how the layout of your home and the layout of your town both have an influence on how people relate to each other. You'll learn how Jake views himself as an informational extension bridge to these growing communities. Jake Powell will tell us about the program initiative he's involved with that helps Gateway communities deal with their tricky combination of big city traffic and small town problems. Life in these dry mountains comes with a lot of constraints that we have to deal with. But luckily, Jake Powell is here to help us do that. My name is Wyatt Trapper, and you could be rummaging around your garage looking for that monkey wrench you need so you can finish reinventing the wheel. But you are listening to this instead.

 

Wyatt: [00:01:31] Last week I talked to David Anderson. Both Dave and Jake are part of Utah State University's Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, and they often work closely together. So I had to ask Jake this question, how are you different?

 

Wyatt: [00:01:47] How are you not Dave?

 

Jake Powell: [00:01:50] Dave is a tremendous mentor and and kind friend to me, but he has a fantastic landscape architecture sense for how things go together. I tend to see myself more as an environmental planner, and I tend to see ecology and systems more than I see design and form, and that's both probably an innate sense in me, as well as more in tune with my training. It allows Dave and I, who were both involved in extension, bringing those both to the table as a team, we could tackle a lot more complicated and diverse challenges across the state.

 

Jake Powell: [00:02:30] If you want to hear about form and design from a licensed landscape architect, listen to last week's episode number thirty eight with David Anderson. In this episode, Jake will be talking about the importance of vision for growing communities as a person who grew up in a small town that struggled with water scarcity and is now dealing with a housing shortage. I also had a lot of questions for Jake about how policy can shape communities. So Jake Powell will be back next week to talk about that. For right now, Jake is going to tell us how the places we inhabit affect how we interact.The world is is a stage upon which we're all interacting. And designers and planners can affect the backdrops of that stage. And by affecting the backdrops of the stages, we change the interactions of the actors.

 

Wyatt: [00:03:23] Yeah. Are there any potent examples of a physical environment shaping human interactions? Hmm.

 

Jake Powell: [00:03:31] How you interact with your family is somewhat a product of how your house was designed. Is your kitchen the heart of your home? Do we live in a house where the rooms are really small and uninviting and so we gravitate to the dining room and living room or where our rooms expansive and have our own bathroom in our bedroom and we didn't spend any time with our family in the family room. So it can happen at that stage. But to your question, why in the state of Utah, the way that the Wasatch Front is laid out with mountains to the east and the Great Salt Lake to the west, in the way that that environment facilitates population growth is that we end up growing north and south because we were constrained to the east and the west. It's pretty unique to be up in the mountains within 30 minutes. It's facilitated a lifestyle where recreation is highly valued. And I think that's a product of the environment more than necessarily our pioneer ancestors being really excited about mountain biking some day. I don't know if it's a an example, but the world around us either incentivizes us to do things or perhaps at dis incentivizes things.

 

Wyatt: [00:04:34] Yeah. What are some of the consequences of the landscape we live in and what are some of the other benefits of the landscape we live in?

 

Jake Powell: [00:04:43] Yeah, from an environmental planning standpoint, some of the consequences as we look at large scales and long timelines is one that states an intensely desirable place to live. We use the adage that Mother Nature played favorites with Utah. We really do have some stunning landscapes. So we have a place that facilitates this adventure lifestyle that's becoming globally attractive to the point where we have the challenge of can we grow to the point where what's special is no longer with us any longer. And to that point, some of the work that I'm working on right now through extension is working with the Utah League of Cities and Towns to provide really accessible training to those planning and zoning commissions, to city council people so that they know what planning and zoning means, what what their powers and duties are, what what their powers aren't.

 

Wyatt: [00:05:40] Yeah. I'm going to ask you a little more about that in a minute, but I guess I, like, know what extension is, but I don't, you know, like, what is the definition of extension?

 

Jake Powell: [00:05:52] Yeah, I guess I can give you my definition or how I perceive extension. So extension has a really exciting role, I think in in history as well as the modern world land grant universities throughout the US, their role was to help the quote unquote common man get educated. That's why a lot of state schools or land grant universities have an agricultural focus like Utah State University does that that mission continues at the university level. But it also it happens through extension and extensions. Role is to be the bridge between the really exciting research happening at the university and the needs of of the quote unquote, common man or woman in the state. And so that bridge is sometimes communication. So it's taking, you know, maybe some of what your experience or your background is. You know, it's taking research on some level that eats grain and it's making it accessible to grain farmers. So it's not published only in a journal, but it's made into a fact sheet or there's information spread to county grain producers, treatment of a certain level of grain, for example. And that happens across a lot of really exciting, relevant topics. That bridge builder is how I see my role and extension. And in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the university, we are helping communities and individuals figure out how to use design and planning to make places that they care a lot about.

 

Wyatt: [00:07:28] Yeah, yeah. OK, this is a bit of a tangent, but it might be worth it. So my grandma is like eighty two, I don't know. And when my sister was telling her about the work. I've been doing on this podcast instead, he was really interested and she wanted to listen, but she doesn't have a smartphone, she doesn't use a computer. And my mom later was like, here, let me just send you home with my phone and you can just turn it on and listen there. And that was not something she was open to. She was kind of scared of that idea because it just wasn't in an accessible way to access instead. And so my sister took the time to, like, remember how to burn a CD again so that she could and my grandma a stack of CDs so that she could listen. My question is, how are you making academic information accessible to people? Like what is your version of burning a CD for my grandma?

 

Jake Powell: [00:08:25] That's a really good question. The other part that's really cool about extension is we take information to people. So part of the role of an extension specialist, which is my position, as well as our county extension faculty, is to understand the needs of people. So if we have a community with a lot of people of a demographic like your grandma, that might not might not check a website, our role is to hold a community meeting, for example, hold up training, come to people's homes. So our county extension faculty, a lot of times we'll we'll get called with a question. You know, I have something wrong with my tree. I'm trying to figure this out. Can you come to my house? And your grandma is probably, you know, leveraged county extension folks to answer a good question before.

 

Wyatt: [00:09:18] Yeah, yeah.Um, so is all the work you're doing to help bring this information to citizens and community planners? Is that through the GNAR initiative? Because I heard about the initiative from Zach Miller in Episode twenty six, but I want to hear more about it from you.

 

Jake Powell: [00:09:36] Yeah, that's a really great question. So GNAR stands for Gateway and Natural Amenity Region G and a R and its initiative that that started with an idea from a faculty member in the planning department at the University of Utah that that was doing some research on gateway communities and gateway communities or communities outside of national parks or large expanses of public lands, scenic rivers, places that people want to go. Her name is Donya Ramoray, and she started to look at these communities and research them and realized there were some really interesting and unique challenges occurring in these communities. We we in the initiative, kind of we phrase it, big city problems in small towns. You know, these small rural communities are dealing with affordable housing traffic. You think of Moab or Springdale. Springdale has a few hundred residents and they service tens of thousands of people a day. So really unique challenges that these communities were facing. They were frankly not quite getting the information they needed at the urban planning conferences and not really getting the information they needed at the rural planning conferences because they were dealing with wildly different issues. And the other challenges in a lot of these small towns, people tasked with dealing with really complex things are sometimes there. The mayor there, the snowplow driver there, the city rec person, they're wearing multiple hats. And so they're dealing with complicated issues with with limited time and resources. We came up with this idea of of serving these communities and helping them address these challenges through three different ways. One is research. So can we put researchers on really important questions about housing or any of these challenges? Second is education. Is there a way we can both educate practitioners as well as future planners that are students now on these issues and become really well trained in gateway community issues? And then third, through capacity building? How do we actually help communities with these resources? Can we create a location where a rural community planner from Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada can go to a website and download a model ordinance on Airbnb and then adjust it that that's been used in other places? The other thing we learned was a lot of these communities feel like they're doing it. They're inventing the wheel for the first time. And in reality, there are other communities that are further along the trajectory. There's Jackson Holes and Boabs and Lake Tahoe's that a lot of communities like Driggs or Escalon or, you know, Bear Lake could learn a lot from and not have to make the same mistakes and learn the same lessons the hard way. But there's a there's really not a lot of great ways for these planners to network and communicate with each other. So the initiative, the intent was to create a hub where information, resources. Schools and people could come together to talk about these unique challenges for gateway communities that was started officially, we launched it or brought it to Utah State in January of 2020, about the time when we realized who we were as a team covid hit. And a lot of these communities that had had really been so focused on keeping the tourism machine running and really benefiting from being a tourist community, realized in the space of a few weeks that this single use economy model was was pretty unsustainable or resilient. And so we got almost immediately phone calls and emails saying, hey, we have some questions, can you help us? And so in the last seven months, we've worked really hard to help create a place for these gated communities can talk and share ideas. What are innovative practices? What things haven't worked the next two and a half months for? You're hosting a webinar series called Amenity Migration. Well, actually, it's called Boomtown. It's a play off the idea of what a term that's really new, called Zoome Towns, which are basically entire communities of people that used to commute somewhere that are now commuting over Zoom and work from the comfort of their own office at home. And so people having a choice to live wherever they want. Why not living in a community where you can wake up early and go for a mountain bike, ride through a beautiful place, go to work for the rest of the day, and then watch the sun go down over a lake in Quarter Lane or Park City. People that have always wanted to live in those places are now selling their places and moving out with with resources that these communities have never seen before. And so the new initiative is trying to get ahead of that or or provide information on that. And that's that's the idea behind what we're calling an amenity migration series.

 

Wyatt: [00:14:47] I'm cutting in real quick to let you know that I put a link in the description to Jake Powell'w series. He would love to help you out. So if you're looking for information, please follow that link. Jake Powell, along with his colleague David Anderson, will be presenting in a research landscapes event on November 18th about helping communities find their sense of place. And there's a link to that in the description as well. Before we come back to my conversation with Jake, you're going to need a little background information on me. I grew up in a small Idaho town that was about two hours away from Montana and two and a half hours away from Utah. My high school graduating class had 23 other people in it. So it definitely wasn't a park city or a MOAB. But my hometown still has pretty decent access to outdoor recreation and natural amenities.

 

Wyatt: [00:15:33] Thinking about what's happening in my hometown, my mom was just talking about an old widow's house that just sold for a staggering amount of money for what it was, and the only people who are willing to spend that much money to live out in the middle of nowhere are people from out of state, from California or from some other big city who.Want to be isolated and want to live alone, and so they come, but then they aren't really part of the community because because their priority is, is that space. And if somebody wanted the community stuff, they would be choosing a different location and send in the consequences for my hometown is we have all these homes that are occupied by people, but they're not people involved with the community.So how can the setup of a community. Change who decides to migrate there for the amenities?

 

Jake Powell: [00:16:41] Yeah, I think what we're learning through the new initiative and in talking to some of these communities is that communities that lack a really strong vision and a sense of who they want to be are the ones that are becoming.They're changing at the will of.Individuals or corporations or or, you know, chain hotels or whatever it might be, people with people with a vision come in and set the vision if your community doesn't already have it. So the communities that have taken the time to to be really, I guess, forthright and in agreements as a as a as at least a large part of the community are the ones that are able to say, you know, you're welcome here in our community if you choose to live here. But here's how our community operates. If you want to build a hotel here, here are the rules to building a hotel if you want to open a coffee shop. Here's how the coffee shop needs to look. Here's how it needs to function. And if that doesn't fit your idea of the coffee shop, then maybe we need to go to a different community. And that is not that's not to say that there's some sort of line in the sand that these communities are drawing necessary or they're or they're they're being unfair to people, but they've set they've set a standard and people are welcome to live by that standard. And they can do that by the form that they create. When the bulk of your land is being broken into 40 acre lots, you've automatically asked people to live in isolation. You know, people that are looking to live close to people in a rural setting are going to choose your hometown. Probably they're going to choose a hometown that facilitates that. When you create the policies and planning that saves everybody lives in isolation, you've created a stage upon which the actors are self isolated and not interacting with each other. And that's sort of the interplay of planning, design and behavior. But what you just what you pointed out with with homes being sold at really high prices, we're seeing that across the intermountain west in Park City, these iconic gateway communities are seeing home sales and home prices that are off the charts, things they've never seen before. The the demand for housing is is extreme. And that all seems great if you're the person who's selling the home. But if you're the school teacher, the police officer, the firefighter, you know, the seasonal worker in these communities, what that spells to you is you don't get to live in this town anymore because you get priced out. And so we start to see other unintended side effects of people that want to live in these communities, having to, for example, commute long distances into these communities to to be able to work. And unfortunately, these problems are just getting more and more acute, as is amenity. Migration continues.

 

Wyatt: [00:19:48] Earlier, you mentioned that these gateway communities feel like they're rebuilding the wheel, dealing with like this combination of rural problems and big city problems. But actually, a lot of these things have been addressed by like Lake Tahoe or Jackson Hole or Sun Valley. I'm imagining myself in La Verkin or Cedar City and being a citizen there and being like, we don't want to become a rich, snobby millionaires paradise like those places are or learn lessons from those communities. So what would your counter to that argument be?

 

Jake Powell: [00:20:26] So we hear that. Across the intermountain west, we don't want to be blank, and the list that you just rattle off are some of the communities that tend to be high on that list of who they don't want to be. The more beneficial question to those communities and to the citizens of those communities is what do you want to be then? If you know what you don't want to be, what do you what do you want to become? And then start to create not only the vision, but the the the policies and framework to make that vision a reality is what we're encouraging communities, because what we're seeing more often than not, as communities putting their head in the sand for lack of better terms and and letting letting growth and development occur on on someone else's terms and not the community's terms. And when we look at these gateway communities that are further along on the trajectory, the Jackson Hole is the sun valleys. The park cities point communities to them not in a way to encourage them replicating them, but to learn from some of the lessons that that I suppose a lot of these communities would like to go back and redo if they had the option.

 

Wyatt: [00:21:36] What kind of decisions and challenges our communities are facing and when it comes to the aesthetic or the vibe of their community, because they know that that's something that you and Dave are about as well.

 

Jake Powell: [00:21:47] So we talk about it in this kind of amorphous term of spirit of place. And one of the challenges with that is I think people, they know it when they see it or feel it, but they can't put their finger on it. And what I see happening is this homogenization of of place that's happened across the US and it's happened especially in Utah, where, you know, downtown Aurum looks a lot like downtown Layton, which feels a lot like outside of every other community. There's a Payless shoe store, a target, a five guys, burgers and fries, you know, this sort of regular suite of normal things that we're used to seeing that we see everywhere. And while that might feel comforting to know that you can get go to a five guys anywhere and it will always taste the same, the kind of pleasure of finding that unique special thing is evaporating. We have binged on homogenisation for decades now that the pendulum swinging to people wanting something unique. People want something authentic and special in in their daily lives and that there's communities that have have retained that either by decision or by happenstance. And so I think that our communities in Utah figuring out what makes them special and holding onto that is going to be a critical thing for them to work on.

 

Wyatt: [00:23:19] I want to know what communities held on to it because of happenstance and what communities held onto it because of decisions they made.

 

Jake Powell: [00:23:30] So, you know, I can I can point to one that's it's a little bit interesting that I know.

 

Wyatt: [00:23:36] Please choose an interesting example.

 

Jake Powell: [00:23:38] I can. Well, yeah, no one needs a good one with like I can tell you, a story about an uninteresting one. So the town of Helper sits along us six and and US six bypassed helper when they built it however many years ago. And when I say bypassed it, bypassed it by maybe two hundred yards.The back of the buildings of downtown helper sit on the river and then next the river is the highway. And so the old highway that had gone through town got moved. It sort of like that. Radiator Springs Disney cars effect that happened throughout the West. So you had this this town that was kind of frozen in time and it really didn't change for a long time because it didn't have a road going through it. And it was kind of a hidden gem. And in the last probably 10 years, there's been a really interesting reinvestment in Helper in its downtown and its community. A lot of that has been led by a really dynamic mayor down there. But but a lot of it, it's never one person. It's a group of people. But they've come back into this community and taken the bones of a downtown that has persisted and they've reinvigorated it. And when I say that, they haven't just.Like Disneyland to fight it, where they just took it back in time and restored all the old stuff and made it look like it was 1950, again, they updated it. So it has a very unique contemporary vibe at it. You know that there's something authentic to it. It still has the grit and the patina and the scale and the charm of that old community with a modern feel to it.

 

Wyatt: [00:25:21] So the happenstance element is because it got bypassed by USX, it wasn't like redeveloped with Payless shoe stores that are would be now out of business and then the decisions made by this dynamic, Mayor, like helping to push it forward and figure out, OK, how do we take these buildings that we are lucky enough to still have and make them useful to us now? Is that kind of what you're saying?

 

Jake Powell: [00:25:48] Yeah, that's exactly right. And we can see that if you look to Ogden, Ogden City has an amazing infrastructure of all the really neat buildings because it was I love Ogden and I'm proud to love Ogden, even though a lot of people roll their eyes. I mean, the people that roll their eyes are probably like me, Wyatt, that when I was younger, Ogden was not a very welcoming town. It didn't really have the same vibe that it has now. It was an old rough town. And and someone took old and rough and said, let's celebrate the old and the rough and make a twenty fifth street. Let's celebrate the railyards.

 

Wyatt: [00:26:27] I'm going to call it. This is the end of part one of my conversation with Jake Powell. Next week, I'll be asking him questions about policy and our communities and how that policy shapes community development and water usage. In the meantime, we now know the importance of vision for a growing community. So while you're waiting on next week's episode, you can listen to the story of a town that turned its back on its most important natural resource, lost its way, and is finding it again with the help of USC Professor Todd Johnson and one of his students who happens to be from that town. That's Episode 15, a new vision for downtown Pocatello. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Instead podcast, if you enjoyed it, please share it with your friends in Gateway and Rural Communities. Also, please subscribe to the Instead podcast and follow us on Instagram at Instead podcast. I'll see you next week. My name is Wyatt Traughber and I produced this episode of Instead as part of my work in the Office of Research at Utah State University.