SLC still faces same issues 40 years later

photo-3While moving last week I stumbled onto a 1970s monograph by the late Dr. Claron E. Nelson, professor of economics at the University of Utah, and, incidentally, my brother-in-law’s grandfather.

Dr. Claron’s manuscript, This is a Community: Salt Lake City 1971, is an economic development study of Salt Lake City that considers the city not just in terms of an economic enterprise, but as a community in which economic changes impact environmental changes which impact social changes. Changes to any one area have a ripple effect that result in other, unanticipated changes.

Though written over 40 years ago, the monograph reads like it was printed yesterday. Check out some of these excerpts describing pollution and problems of mass transit in the city:

“Development patterns and processes also have a major impact upon the quality of air, particularly in a basin such as Salt Lake Valley with winter temperature inversions. Current ground rules for development are completely inadequate. The city must assume an active role as mediator between the development processes and the environment. Attention must be given to the second-and third-order effects, over both the short term and long term, of development actions.”


“Dirty air obviously has a negative influence on a company site investigator. The industrial development representative for one of the railroads states that he never takes anyone up on the bench area of the city until after 10 p.m. because of the pollution.”


“As in most urban areas, public transportation has become completely inadequate from the standpoint of moving people. Infrequent schedules over only a very restricted period of the day and week and relatively slow operation almost preclude its use by anyone with an automobile. Those who do not have an automobile are the “transportation poor” of the city. By fostering urban sprawl and inadequate public transit a significant part of the population has become isolated. Those who cannot drive or who cannot afford an automobile are denied mobility for full access to the employment opportunities and the cultural and social amenities.”


“The suburban family operating two or three cars to provide transportation to work, school, shopping, is receiving more community assistance than the Central City family, with zero or one vehicle. Since cars funnel into the [Central Business District] from all parts of the valley, it probably has the highest concentration of auto pollution; the individuals least responsible “pay” the highest costs in terms of discomfort, health effects. The amount of public subsidization received increases directly with the distances traveled and the number of motor vehicles in the family.”

The more things change, the more things…well, you get the idea. Except that things in fact aren’t changing in the first place. There’s no room for nostalgia here. We’re dealing with almost the precise same problems we dealt with over 40 years ago. And those same problems are confronted with the same levels of recalcitrance from our leaders.

It’s true that municipal leaders in the valley, being much closer to the ground, are perhaps better equipped to deal with some of these issues. However, the need for cooperation between so many different municipalities practically requires state involvement. Salt Lake City can do its best to promote cycling, but the city is connected to Murray, West Valley, South Jordan and Draper in the south, Bountiful and Layton in the north, and numerous unincorporated areas that make cooperative planning essential for long term sustainability.

Unfortunately state leaders are unwilling to address these concerns. More robust county involvement could be an effective alternative to handling issues of cooperation without requiring legislative intervention. But multi-county problems like bad air, and increasingly transportation issues, will continue to require state intervention.

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