A City is a Collective Dream

When everyone is an activist, everyone can be better off. All too often we resign our responsibility to our community and let others dream. This often is to our detriment; the modernist dream held by city planners turned cities from communal places to places dominated by cars from suburbs. Everyone needs to look at their city and think about how they could improve it and make it enjoyable for themselves and those around them. A city planner in an office building cannot be expected to always make changes that make life for the pedestrian better, and it is the pedestrian’s responsibility to make their desires known. To repeat myself, everyone needs to be an activist.

We live life within multiple scales, from the ultra-micro level of our households to the national level, and when we look to improve our lives, we need to keep all these scales in mind.

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Activists need to practice scale jumping. People often look to changes that need to be made at the national level, but in the United States change at that level is very difficult. Looking at the national level for change may not even be the correct approach for actually bringing change at the national level. One needs to consider also how they could make changes at smaller scales, which may be within their grasp, then move on to larger changes. We live life within multiple scales, from the ultra-micro level of our households to the national level, and when we look to improve our lives, we need to keep all these scales in mind.

As an example of scale jumping, I am going to see how little improvements can make major changes in how enjoyable life is, starting first in the house where I live, then my neighborhood, then my campus, and finally Salt Lake City.

First, my house. I still live with my parents (I cannot afford an apartment, and why would I pay to live in a dorm when I can live with my parents for free?), so the building where I live is the same building that I have lived in for 18 years, almost as long as I have lived in Utah. When I was very little the house was okay. Prior to 2011, our home had been improving steadily; the kitchen and one of the bathrooms was remodeled along with the office, and an addition, a studio for my mother to teach music lessons in, was constructed. In the fall of 2011, our garbage disposal ceased to work. The day that the garbage disposal stopped working was also the day that my father lost his job. What followed was a long, slow, painful descent into poverty. My Dad was a computer programmer and made a good income, and we considered ourselves middle class. He was unable to find work for over a year, then he found a programming job with the state that he kept for about one year before he was fired. Bankruptcy was filed, and now Dad drives a bus. The family can barely get by with the financial support of family, friends, and sometimes our church community. It has been miserable, and the experience began when the garbage disposal broke.

I remember once within the past couple months Dad got a call about a job possibility (turns out it was a headhunter, someone who basically collects resumes and looks for employees on behalf of potential employers). My Mom and I were very excited, and were talking about what we could do if he actually got a decent paying job. One of the first things I mentioned was to get a new garbage disposal. Why? For me, it represents closure. It would signal the end of our household depression, that we would be able to resume maintaining it, that needs that kept being put off because there is no money could finally be met. Finally, life could resume where it once was, and these three miserable years would be over. Finally, the garbage disposal would be working again.

In truth, I don’t think I will be living with my parents when the garbage disposal is finally fixed.

Moving up to my neighborhood, if I were to make a change, I would make public transit a more viable alternative to automobiles (this is something that could probably improve the city as a whole, not just my neighborhood). At this point in time, public transit is viable only in special cases, usually when one works in Salt Lake City and uses transit to reach Trax. Otherwise, one must own a car.

I remember when I would ride the bus from my home in West Jordan to the Redwood campus of Salt Lake Community College, during my first semester of college in the fall of 2010. It was miserable. The reason why was primarily because I needed to make a transfer at the intersection of 6200 S. and Redwood Road. The buses schedules did not line up nicely, so I often needed to wait 30 minutes at that busy intersection for a bus, sitting on an electrical metal box (if anything). Coming home from SLCC was not much better. In wintertime, I was unable to sit down and I was freezing. Commuting to school and back would be 2-3 miserable hours. Compare that to driving a car, where round trip it would be half an hour. Add to this the spotty, irregular schedule of the bus, with perhaps an hour between buses, and the 62 bus not running past 7:00 PM. As one of my coworkers at SLCC put it, in the suburbs, “The bus is a joke.”

One thing that’s needed is more buses; with more buses running, the buses could come more frequently and transferring from one bus to another would not be so miserable. Hour waits between buses do not make buses a viable alternative to cars, and I would hate to imagine having to run errands at multiple locations while depending on the bus. I remember being very impressed by Jaime Lerner’s description of Curitiba’s bus system, and I would love for a similar system to be implemented here in Salt Lake City. We could do without a few houses in the suburbs, building the tubes that Curitiba’s system uses that allows for rapid boarding and exit in their stead, and perhaps some lanes on the streets could be converted to being purely bus lanes. Do this, and perhaps the bus in Salt Lake City would make for a viable alternative to cars (and demand would increase).

Such a change, though, would be very big and beyond my power. At the very least, UTA could get more buses.


When everyone thinks like an activist, major changes can be made, communities are transformed, and everyone is better off.

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I can think of a very simple change to the University of Utah campus that would improve life: bike sharing. The campus is quite large and has been becoming friendlier to bicycles by building bike paths (we could use bike lanes on the sidewalks, though, so that I as a pedestrian am not so terrified when I see or hear a biker coming). The campus transit system is nice, but I think a bike sharing system would make movement across campus even easier. With bike stations everywhere, one could simply leave class, check out a bike, move to the next station, park the bike in another station, and go to their next class. No need to rely on the shuttle schedule! Considering how large the campus is, I would love to have a bike sharing system and would likely use it myself. They have been implemented successfully in New York, Washington, and even in Salt Lake City. Why not expand to the campus?

Finally, to make urban life in Salt Lake City more enjoyable, I would expand the sidewalks. Last week, I mapped out Salt Lake City as I knew it. 400 South is a major street in Salt Lake City; the red line train runs right through the middle of it. There is lots of opportunity to turn the street into social space. Remove one of the three lanes on each side of the street, bring the Salt Lake bike share program along, expand the sidewalk (and maybe blend it with the street, as Ben Hamilton-Baille did here), and let the local restaurants and businesses take over the space. Suddenly a major artery of Salt Lake City has been turned into social space, and could be the place to hang out at night. With the library, City Hall, and all the local bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, I believe there is lots of opportunity to turn 400 S. into social space.

When one pays close attention to their life, not taking their surroundings for granted and viewing with an activist’s eye, ways to improve life appear wherever one looks. Some simple changes can vastly improve the surrounding area, while others might be of a larger scale and could be radical (yet worthwhile) transformations. When everyone thinks like an activist, major changes can be made, communities are transformed, and everyone is better off.

Image sources:

·         Curitiba tube: http://bestontop10.blogspot.com/2013_07_01_archive.html

·         SLC bike share: http://www.24saltlake.com/news/salt-lake-city-bikeshare-greenbike/


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