If we protect it, they will still want to come
March 22, 2013
For a while now, I have been kicking some thoughts around, like pebbles down the road. There have been some conversations on the sidewalk outside the post office, over a meal with a beverage or two. Mostly with folks like me who have lived here and loved our little town for a good long time. And we have invested in it some with our finances, some with our time, but we have all been equally committed to the outcome.
Somewhere in the past few years the mood changed. A kind of confusion set in. The kind of fog that can surround the mountain on the rarest of mornings and creep over the green open spaces out in the Basin. No one seemed to have a vision. The growth came and swallowed up reason. New players rolled in who didn’t understand the great care and sacrifice that had gone into making the town pretty enough to pose for all those four-color brochures.
The people who arrived were armed with rolled-up plans they wanted to lay out over what already existed. Undo longtime relationships to each other and the land. The wildlife wasn’t even a consideration.
All those years of laying pipe seemed silly when the source was drying up. Growing things just to kill off other things always fails. Smart landowners rotate uses to keep the soil fertile. Right now, the only planned use for much of the land seems to be to build something else on it. And then talk about it all in terms of smart urban design.
Hell, when did we forget we are a tiny little town tucked into the mountains that folks have wanted to come to exactly because we are a tiny little town tucked into the mountains? In the winter it snows and we ski and in the summer we have wildflowers and recreate on trails and in parks and on porches.
There is a lot of talk of visioning and economic development going on right now. But the ideas seem to fall short of the product. We don’t need more stuff. We need to take really good care of the stuff we have. If you want folks to want to do business here, we ought to take care of the business that is here already.
I’m not saying don’t plan for the future, of course not. In fact, just the opposite. Have real intentions for the future. Make certain the elk can still migrate across the Basin even if, especially if it means buying more open space. Every home becomes more valuable when we limit what we have. Ditto the business spaces.
And about those spaces: We whisper about the buildings on Main Street shuttered up, with paper in the windows, plywood for doors. Is anyone knocking on those doors and asking the owners their intentions. And if they need help. And then helping them plant something real there? And that’s also true in Prospector and Redstone and out at Quarry Village. Lots and lots of vacant buildings while we discuss approving more.
I heard the Kimball Art Center has considered taking its multi-million-dollar expansion plans and moving them off Main Street. It would be a tragedy if that happened. If we couldn’t all sit at one table and figure out how to make something exciting out of that blighted building and draw new folks to Old Town with a design you just had come, only here, to see.
Invest in dreaming on that pivotal corner and imagine what a sad day it would be if another office space, not filled, grew there instead. Yes, I know the plans include heights over the current code. Work it out.
And don’t talk to me about the architecture issue. Look up Main Street. While it is quaint and we love that, no historic buildings save The Egyptian and The Claimjumper were built to be anything but temporary. And lower Main? To think there is some design plan there worth saving is comical.
And while I love seeing moose and elk in my little neighborhood just down from the city-owned recreation building, they don’t belong here. Those first years in town we rarely spotted them. They had all the room they needed in the hills above the city. And plenty to graze on. We keep eating their lunch. And dinner. By eating up their land.
Where exactly is the tipping point? When do we run out of charm and just become like any other, nothing special, town a mishmash of growth and greed?
Years ago there was a visionary group and a group that expected them to be visionary and they collaborated on creating a land moat around Park City, buying up open space. Recently the county and some determined folks did more of the same. It is most the promising example of "government at work" we’ve experienced in a very long time.
"Quality of life" probably has as many definitions as the people who live here, but I hope there are some common responses. The beauty. The people. The thoughtful, visionary way we have worked to preserve something truly historic and endangered a vibrant community that just happens to be at the heart of an old silver mining town.
This is the moment to gather and be intentional with our future. Sustainability has to be sustained to work. And all the companies we think we need to invite here to add to the housing needs and the roads and the schools may just be creating the kind of community people soon move from, not to.
I think we still want to be the place unlike any other place you came from. More precious than the metal ever mined here. Park City, regardless of what your Zip code says, is an attitude. A state of mind. And a carefully respectful governed community. I think about this more and more often on Sundays in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.