Tom Clyde: Welcome to Greater Snyderville
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May 5, 2017
It is often said that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.
And then there's the internet.
A friend recently mentioned a statistic that she had come across online, and was puzzled by it. I had seen the same, or similar, one-paragraph news item somewhere else. So I did some investigating and became more puzzled with every mouse click.
The news item was one of those blurbs that picks up a seemingly surprising statistic, and prints it out without any context. Things like, "There are more DeSotos registered in Wisconsin than any other state" (I'm making that up, but it will probably be reported as gospel fact on Wikipedia within a week).
After some digging, though, it became clear there aren’t a lot of eccentric billionaires secretly hiding in the frozen woods at Summit Park.
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In this case, the factoid was that the highest per capita income in all of the "micropolitan" areas of the U.S. was in "Summit Park, Utah." Edwards, Colorado and Jackson, Wyoming rounded out the top three.
Well, Summit Park is a lovely neighborhood with many fine people living there. But the highest per capita income among all the micropolitan areas? And what's a micropolitan area?
So I went digging through the U.S. Census bureau website. I learned that Summit Park is a "census designated place," meaning the Census Bureau counts Summit Park as if it were an incorporated town. That's true of other Summit County places like Peoa and Woodland that look and feel like towns, but don't have a municipal government. So that's Summit Park. The Summit Park Micropolitan Area seemed to mean something else.
A micropolitan area is an "urban cluster" with a population of more than 10,000 people, but less than 50,000 people. Apparently a micropolitan area can exist within an overlapping metropolitan area, and a Census Designated Place can be all three at the same time. They still only get one vote.
The "Summit Park Utah Micropolitan Area" is really western Summit County. I was unable to find a map of it to see if Promontory, for example, is included, or if Deer Crest is excluded because it is across the county line and part of the Heber Micropolitan Area. It looks like the Census Bureau is willing to blur any line except a county line, and those seem pretty solid.
Still, the idea that Summit Park is the wealthiest neighborhood in the country seemed like a stretch. After some digging, though, it became clear there aren't a lot of eccentric billionaires secretly hiding in the frozen woods at Summit Park.
The statistical area includes Park City, where there are a lot of wealthy people living out in the open. Same with Edwards, Colorado, which is really the Vail/Beaver Creek area, and of course Jackson. Jackson attracts a lot of wealthy people because the scenery is beautiful, but especially the part about there being no state income tax in Wyoming.
Just for the record, the top three micropolitan areas had a per capita income of about $83,000. A quick scan of the list of all of those areas on the census bureau website showed the typical per capita income in small town America is about $30,000. It shouldn't come as a surprise that incomes in our neck of the woods are higher than typical. The only thing that didn't really make sense was the Census Bureau reporting the area as "Summit Park," rather than Park City. I'm sure there will be a special task force formed at City Hall to address this outrage.
What I found interesting, though was that as far as the Census Bureau is concerned Park City is just another neighborhood in the Greater Snyderville metro area. We used to think of it as the center of the universe. In fact, we still do. But when you look at it from the Census Bureau's idea of a functional community, there is one community extending from Parleys Summit to Wanship, and from Silver Creek to Jordanelle Dam.
Park City used to dominate that area in terms of population, business activity and amenities. Not so much anymore. The population has shifted to Snyderville, and the commercial base has settled in at Kimball Junction. A large portion of the population commutes to Salt Lake for work, making us both a micropolitan area of our own, and part of the Salt Lake metropolitan area at the same time. No wonder we have something of an identity crisis around here.
My search of the Census Bureau website was unsatisfying. I had hoped to find a detailed list of obscure, defining statistics about our micropolitan area. How many homes still had outdoor toilets, the number of dogs per capita, how many left-handed vegans of Irish ancestry drive F-250s. I know it's all there, but I couldn't find it.
It was all very confusing, but the Census Bureau is absolutely right about us living in an "urban cluster."
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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