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Advice and Dissent 

How Will the West Win?

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Alot of people on Salt Lake City’s West Side are mad. They’re angry with Mayor Rocky Anderson for putting the kibosh on what he called the “Sprawl Mall,” a proposed 1.3 million-square-foot outlet at 5600 West and Interstate 80.

Some West-Siders had adopted the mega-mall as their own, even though most reside closer to downtown than the area west of Salt Lake City International Airport where the 500-acre project was slated to be built. Nonetheless, it would have been their mall.

It’s true that East Side Salt Lake City residents have a habit of ignoring the West Side. Conversely, it seems West-Siders have adopted the notion of a barrier, too. But theirs is built on indignation—something like the forgotten stepchild. And frankly, they’ve had a gut-full.

Although there were enough votes on the Salt Lake City Council to approve the mega-mall—along with the required zoning change and a funding package that would have relieved developers of $14.5 million in taxes—the mayor convinced two members it was a bad idea. Do the math and you’ll find that the council, with Carlton Christensen recusing himself for potential conflicts of interest, could not override Anderson’s veto. Goodbye mall.

The reaction by some on the West Side was swift and bitter. Jay Ingleby, chairman of the West Salt Lake Community Council, lashed out against the mayor and against Hispanic immigrants, whose businesses carry Spanish names he can’t pronounce or understand. What does the West Side get, he demanded of the mayor.

That’s a good question.

Since about 1960, urban planning has been left up to developers along the Wasatch Front. The result is a mishmash of subdivisions and strip malls. We didn’t learn from the same mistakes made by other places, most notably California. And that fact is still true today—week after week developers coax eager town councils and mayors with promises of projects and tax revenue, devoid of comprehensive planning.

Contrast that with Salt Lake City’s older neighborhoods—well-planned areas with small pockets of commercial interests, sidewalks and porches that face the street. Believe it or not, urban planners now say that is the proper way to plan communities, rather than what we’ve been doing for the past 40 years.

Rocky made the right move by stopping the mall. It would not have helped the West Side, but would have increased traffic congestion and air pollution. It would also have destabilized a struggling downtown. The mayor has the right idea—go back to neighborhoods where residents can walk to commercial venues.

That’s all fine and dandy, but Jay Ingleby’s discriminatory diatribe aside, the question remains: What does the West Side get?

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More by Christopher Smart

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