Whenever anyone comes up with a new scheme for making money, they talk about "economic development." That’s the catch phrase of the moment for doing something selfish and/or dumb, while pretending it’s good for the community. It’s supposed to outweigh the problems the proposal is bound to create, because in the end we’ll get ourselves some economic development. I think it’s economic devilment.
Take the annexation petition for what I’ll call the Mirage Hotel, proposed for nosebleed altitude in Empire Pass. They want to put in an ultra-swank resort hotel for billionaires and seasonally employ hundreds of clerks, janitors, maids and other low-wage workers. It supposedly has something to do with open space, so it’s getting a lot of favorable attention.
Compare that to the planning gauntlet through which the proposed IHC hospital is being dragged. Hospitals help the sick and injured; our population is aging and life is never completely safe, so having one is a good idea. Hospitals also provide jobs at all economic levels, and stay open all year round. Thus, the low-wage employees aren’t forced to go on unemployment or leave town when a particular season ends.
The hospital is proposed for the edge of town, within a short distance of a major state road and a superhighway. But traffic impacts are seen as such a grave concern that the (literal) bean counters on the planning commission spent weeks quibbling about where hospital employees and visitors would eat lunch. They shouldn’t leave campus for lunch, because that would mean more trips to and fro, yet the eating facilities shouldn’t be good enough to attract diners with no hospital business. Wow!
The difference between these two projects is an early sign of the conflict to come, which won’t be between the East and West sides of the county, but between the commuter and resort economies. People moved here because Park City offers the amenities of a first-class resort within an easy drive of Salt Lake. But their prosperity is unrelated to the resorts and they like to shop where they live. This has led to the "suburbanization" of 84098, which is suddenly being perceived as a major problem by, among others, the resort operators.
"Surprises" like this come from bad planning and a lack of long-term vision. The interchange at Kimball Junction is already obsolete. The people who built it really only looked ahead to the 2002 Olympics. They proved that by installing winter sports murals in an underpass where the speed limit is 65 mph. This is not, however, as silly a bit of "public art" as Park City’s monument to slot-car racing, also an Olympic trophy.
Now, the Olympics are long over and we need professional help from consultants and academics who can talk intelligently about what our area will really be like 50 years from now: An assessment based on realistic analysis and big-picture views of the entire economy, not just one segment of it. Too much of this community’s "visioning" has rationalized where we were, or has been a subsidized wish list for one industry. Please join me in asking our elected leaders to reach out to the groups for whom long-term economic development is a topic for serious study, and get a good assessment of what makes the city and county tick. Some of the groups that might offer a starting point are the Urban Land Institute, the Corporation for Enterprise Development, or the Texas Institute for Economic Development. There are others. Select some, and start talking. Start looking at who we are and who we’re going to be.
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“Proponents should be honest about what they plan to put in a landfill,” writes Thomas Jacobson, “and everyone should understand the consequences if the geology and hydrology have not been properly studied.”