Whistling toward fairness
Sunday in the Park
March 31, 2017
My friend, who is rather new to Park City — he has lived here about 12 years, said to me with great concern that when I write about how things used to be here, I sound like I am fighting progress. I sound old fashioned. He said people don't want to read about what used to be. They want "all the modern stuff." And I believe the people he spends most of his time with really DO want all "the modern stuff."
But where they moved is a charming, still slightly backward little place in the spectacular mountains of Utah where there is great protected beauty and liberal sensibilities and constantly improving public works.
Some of us moved to a different town.
We moved to a rundown, funky, little dying mining town with a small family-owned ski area. A place where the streets rolled up (most of the year) when the sun went down. Each spring businesses along Main Street closed for months: Spring lasted until the Fourth of July. And summer had picnics and fireworks and fishing out in the county. We walked up and around the mountains differently each time because there were no trails.
Unlike the old days, no one on the dais appeared to have a cocktail in their water bottle. Nor did anyone in the audience. There are reasons we call them good ol’ days.
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City government in the '80s gained a bunch of Baby Boomers who wanted to make the town better. Create some parks, fix up some old city buildings and trade the school district for some of theirs (Marsac, Carl Winters).
By the '90s we were traveling to other resorts to try and learn from them. We had been awarded a piece of the Winter Olympics after less than a decade of presenting World Cup races. We knew we needed to look at ways to clean and protect our water supply that mostly came from the mountains and passed through the toxic old mines.
More businesses stayed open during the summer and the National Historic designation that had been awarded to Park City's Main Street in the late '70s now seemed to really mean something. We were protecting Old Town buildings and taking pride in that. And we had been buying up all the land we could around Park City to create, as some leaders then dubbed it, a land moat. Which was meant to keep the barbarians of building stuff at The Gate.
The moat philosophy was fun and smart and bit of noblesse oblige; it was grand and it didn't cost the big thinkers any personal funds. We became so good at creating the moat and fixing up and connecting everyone with granite sidewalks and better buses that somewhere, somehow it felt like we forgot about the people who lived inside the moat.
Until one day we looked around and saw most of the churches had moved outside the moat, ditto the schools and the waiters and the teachers and the firemen and policemen. Even some city leaders lived outside the city.
It seemed that in our zeal to protect our treasure we forgot who and what we set out to protect. We forgot to measure success not by smart planning or zoning or civic improvements but rather how we cared for each other to maintain a fragile but positive, quality of life.
We became as shallow as the layer of dirt between us and the thousand miles of tunnels that run underneath every one of the glamorous structures we have precariously built upon them.
So this week when I chose to attend a City Council meeting — only out of general community interest and not with a personal dog in any fight — I was shocked at what I witnessed.
The chambers were packed with longtime locals and earnest newer folks. There was an appeal before the council and it was the first full item of the night. They started the meeting in a friendly and professional fashion promptly at 6. Unlike the old days, no one on the dais appeared to have a cocktail in their water bottle. Nor did anyone in the audience. There are reasons we call them good ol' days.
First the issue was explained by staff. Then the appellant laid out their case. Then the applicant. Both sides were respectful. And then, one by one, the citizens spoke. They were passionate and funny and committed and respectful. The council and city staff let them all speak their peace. Then the Mayor and council debated what they heard and asked their attorney for some clarifications. And in the middle of this tipping point discussion about what it means to live in Old Town as a full time resident, the 10 O'Clock Whistle from the mining era blew, as if on cue. And those on the dais acknowledged the omen briefly.
Nearly five hours after the process began the council made their ruling in favor of the Old Town residents. Yes, there will be counter claims made now and the planning commission will have more work to do. Ditto city staff. And the applicant will still have the opportunity to create a great structure in an iconic location. But what happened was a bit of governance magic: The process worked and the people who live in the city limits in fragile conditions between then and now were heard and respected.
Criticizing is easy. I can do it pretty well. Factually and occasionally with a bit of wit.
The popular dystopian view of the world/our city seems forgone. Unless, and until, you sit through a process that works. And then you need to stop and appreciate those who are working hard to manage a course correction here and there when possible. Then you can and should celebrate living in such a place, any day, like Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.