In the 1970s, Salt Lake City had died.  There was a lot of debate, but most people thought that all that was left was a rotting carcase, doomed to go the way of Detroit and other failed metroplex areas and downtown areas.  Streetwalkers dominated Second South.  The free flow of drugs had just started and no one thought it was going to end (and it got much, much worse before Salt Lake ceased to be a major clearing house in the drug trade).  So what happened?

We used to joke that the only Democrat in Utah happened.  I know, that isn’t fair.  There were other democrats (there was even a Democratic governor). But there was Eugene Jacobs, a law professor and a land finance/government redevelopment expert.  Before he was finished more than 50 Utah government units were developing projects he was consulting on and the downtown Salt Lake area was saved, the core did not rot out.

Now Utah has some real disadvantages.  For example, while the citizens tax themselves more than the average to pay for schools, they manage to spend towards the bottom per student.  A combination of low average wages and much larger families makes for results of that sort.  Lowered income happens because people don’t want to leave the state, and keep migrating into it. Salt Lake is one of the few cities with an anesthesiologist to CRNA ratio higher than San Fransisco’s (where CRNAs are actually paid less than some “regular” nurses). That sort of trend exists across professions.

But what happened was more than Jacobs and his pragmatic approach.  The LDS Church also decided that it did not want the City where the heart of the Church was found to fail and wasn’t going to just move out to the suburbs or down to Provo.

My best guess is that it took a loss of about six million dollars on the projects, but the net effect was that the city turned completely around.  I did not see the internal documents, I’m just guessing from what I know and looking at it from the outside as to what it cost.

Now that change hasn’t been just a one time cure, and all the movement has not been just one way.  Like many cities, the efforts have had their ups and downs.  There has been a serious consideration about how to make the transformation stick and how to do it in a way that does not cost money (i.e. where the Church doesn’t have to lose money on the deal in order to make the transformation occur).  From what I can see, it appears that there is a well considered solution in line with implementing some Parisian style housing and other projects.

It is interesting, because most of the people I read in the bloggernacle who are commenting on the Church’s latest project seem to assume that saving the city center is a mistake and that instead it should go back to the drug gangs and prostitutes. Well, they aggressively criticize the project, which if it (or something else beyond what the City can do itself) were not implemented would result in the same end.  I’m all for thinking that the ends and the means are part of each other (so I oppose torture, but approve of the recent project to revitalize Salt Lake, seeing it in the historic context of the last 40-50 years).

So, what do you think?  Do you think:

  1. Urban renewal and such are fine — for Democrats and other socialists, but not for Utah.
  2. Sure, redevelop, just don’t let it cost any money or attract anyone with money.  Got to stand tight for class warfare.
  3. Whatever.  If someone in Utah wants to do it, I’m for it.
  4. Hey, I’m a neo-calvinist.  Money is a sign of God’s grace.  The more, the better.
  5. It can’t be that serious a problem or that worthwhile.  We should send the money to where it is needed, like Somalia.
  6. Letting Democrats on the law school faculty at BYU was a mistake and it is time to fix that trend now.
  7. Temples, urban renewal, etc., you are just talking trickle down economics, give the money straight to the poor instead.
  8. Steve, you should have done that post on how Mormon women can negotiate their public identities instead.
  9. Steve, you should have gotten straight to Zion, why people don’t recognize the working Utopias we have, and skipped all the side trips.
  10. ….

I’m looking for your thoughts.