The great promise of America was that we could take what we enjoyed in the old world, remove corrupt government tyranny and overzealous religious oppression and create a more functional environment where people could flourish as they pursued their own personal version of happiness.
Driving down Fort Union Boulevard in Sandy and Cottonwood Heights we see the ultimate in functionality: strip mall developments, fast food chains, big boxes all animated by cars entering and exiting parking lots on to fast-moving streets. Absent are pedestrians, bikes or signs of human-life exiting outside cars. It’s a nauseating series of treeless asphalt streets and garish chain stores barely visible through inversion smog. Certainly it is a highly functional place, but there is a noticeable absence of pleasing, human-scale form in this function.
Who decided that this massive boulevard leading to the best skiing in the world should be such an insult to the senses? Where are the parks? Where is there any trace of nature or beauty, culture or art? So close to the mountains and all one sees are chain stores and billboards. No streams, no granite boulders– not a wisp of what once was here or what lay underneath before humans started building.
Today, all newer suburban developments are built for the supreme functionality of cars, pedestrians being an afterthought at best. Completely ignored in these newer cities along the Wasatch Front is the thought or idea that there is more to life than traveling quickly from point A to point B. The majority of homeowners say they would like to walk to destinations near their homes. Can you imagine walking to the grocery store? The post office? The vet? The gym? The library? This is impossible in new suburban communities such as Sandy, Draper and Herriman because developers and city leaders don’t really care what you want. They care what big developers and corporations want.
Like many suburbs across America, Sandy is a victim of special interests (developers and corporations) working in harmony with government leaders. This lack of character, design and absence of central planning is due to the negligence of leaders in examining what it means to be a human and to live in a place that functions as both a community and a center for commerce. The corporate vision has dominated Sandy, Midvale, Cottonwood Heights and Draper. Not because this is what residents prefer but because city leaders have been choosing who they want to win based on the parties who helps them get elected.
For years tax subsidies and incentives have been handed over to corporations while the local businesses have received a pittance. The mess that is Fort Union and now what we see in Draper and American Fork is the result of this policy of playing favorites.
Yet, in study after study it’s not the corporations that are providing the highest paying, long-term jobs— it’s the local businesses. Further, locally owned businesses have a seven times greater impact on redistributing cash in the local economy than corporate chains. Yet these facts are ignored.
Lets call Sandy, Draper and the modern model for city development what it is: an ugly, soulless toilet. It’s a toilet because our dollars spent at these places funnel our money to Wall Street and corporate investors. These places become soulless because most publicly traded corporations, only work under one motive and interest: profit.
The regular practice of corporate America is to influence various government systems in their favor. Corporations are constantly lobbying congressional leaders in Washington to pass laws to favor their businesses interests. Likewise, they train local leaders to jump through their hoops to entice investment in their communities. And the greatest of all corporate hoop jumpers is Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan.
This corporate hoop jumping race that WalMart and Target have trained our leaders into playing, involves tossing out common sense and throwing away all aspects of development which would foster the creation of true local community gathering centers.
Suburban Rules That Make Towns Unliveable
1. All roads should be extremely wide and allow for two lanes in each direction. Speed limits can be set at 40 MPH, but it will be much easier for motorists to reach speeds of 50 or even 60 to get where they need to go; this produces a secondary source of revenue because a large number of speeding tickets can be issued. Secondly, this will greatly discourage anyone from attempting to walk, which could slow down motorists.
2. All retail, commercial and common areas should be set back far from the roads to allow for ample parking and convenience.
3. Signage for businesses should be roadside tall and large enough for fast-moving vehicles to see and clearly read signage.
4. The center of any community is the multiple big-box anchored retail development. If at least two major big box stores can be enticed to locate in an area then certainly the locals will will be willing to spend top dollar on renting space beside the high-demand area.
5. There will be no walking in commercial and retail areas except to the expected destination. Cars will most often be used to move even if destinations are next door.
6. The only pedestrian-only areas are inside of private shopping malls. There will be no pedestrian-only public streets because this opens up the possibility of unregulated speech, and loitering. True community gathering places might offer too much mingling among population classes.
7. The best way to attract corporate commercial investment is to offer a massive freeway off-ramp spilling into a gargantuan parking lot that feeds megaplex theaters, big box stores and at least one Olive Garden restaurant. The freeway off-ramp will lead to an increased tax base because a far greater number of corporate chains will invest in your former small-town community; Who knows you might even attract an In-and-Out burger to your suffering small town.
Rules that foster a real liveable walkable functional communities
1. Tell all corporate chains that if they want to earn profits on your residents– profits that go towards enriching out of state stockholders– they can conform to your livability standards and rules rather than vice-versa.
2. Make a place liveable and people will come, property values will rise and commerce will flourish. Listen to the big developers, chain store owners and you will obtain a throw-away community full of throw away architecture. Examine places like Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland and you see that it’s nice to have buildings you don’t wish to throw away after thirty years like garbage.
3. Trails, parks, footpaths, greenspace, bicycle commuting access should not be afterthoughts but should be all primary concerns of local leaders, because they make a place liveable and they require the use of legs for walking, biking and enjoying rather than sucking gasoline.
4. A massive green flourishing family farm is much nicer to look at than a giant empty asphalt parking lot, so stop trading farms for asphalt.
Examine any and all cities built before cars. Walk around these old places and take notice. That walking is a very pleasurable experience. It’s sad that many residents of Utah probably don’t even know what I’m talking about.
When places are built on a scale for walking humans, destinations don’t need to be so spread out. We take up a lot less space when we aren’t carrying around a three-ton automobile, and the entire world become much more pleasant. When you walk around pedestrian public streets and see other people walking, and further when it’s not all under the roof of one shopping mall but instead a public square or a district, a spirit of aliveness and community comes about. This spirit is only captured during the summertime at the downtown farmer’s market in SLC. Sadly, there is no other public place that is built just for walking humans. A mall is a cheap facsimile of the real experience.
Please stay tuned for our three-part feature “Standing Their Ground.”