Seems everyone outside Utah County has an opinion about the place.

I found that out when I told people I was moving here to take a new job."Have you ever spent any time in Happy Valley?" they'd ask. It was always in a tone of voice that suggested they knew something I didn't. Most of them hadn't spent much time here themselves.

I've yet to form any strong opinions about the county, but here are some random observations from a newcomer.

Housing is scarce. My wife and I were warned that we'd have a difficult time finding a place to live. Friends of ours spent four months commuting from Kaysville, Davis County, while looking for a house, duplex, apartment, cardboard box or whatever. But we plan to move again soon. (See below.)

Since moving here, I have met a Brigham Young University graduate student who, with his wife and three children, lived out of the family van for a week in subzero temperatures last December. It's a good thing they owned a van and not a Yugo. A BYU professor finally took the family in until they found an affordable rental unit.

Housing is expensive. We've never had to pay so much for so little. Not that our apartment is bad. It's just small. There's not enough room for the three of us. Either I have to move out and leave my wife with our hyperactive 3-year-old son or vice versa. We found renting a decent three-bedroom house costs as much as buying one. So, we're buying. At least we'll be able to keep the family together.

Parking spaces in downtown Provo are more scarce than housing, but less expensive. If you work or shop on Center Street, you have to own a vehicle with a tough right turn signal. Half the day is wasted making right turns around the block waiting for someone to relinquish a piece of the most coveted property in the city. When one does open up, it's like feeding time in the shark tank. Admission is free. So is the parking.

Downtown is vibrant. If you ever do get out of the car, you'll find a variety of shops and restaurants. I like that. Where I worked previously, the city center resembled a movie set in storage. I've heard that Provo is still smarting because Orem got the University Mall. Let 'em have it. Malls have no character. Busy downtown streets give a city personality.

Well, those are my initial observations of Utah County and Provo. All in all, I'd say it hasn't been a bad first impression. At least someone smiles at you before zipping into the parking space you've waited for.