James Fallows’ piece in the March issue of The Atlantic covered his travels to up-and-coming cities in the United States, where he measured them against eleven characteristics that show promise for success. But Fallows made a pretty blatant pass over the Mountain West and Midwest, including Salt Lake City. I have taken the liberty of comparing what we offer here with what Fallows considers the most important signs that a city and its people will make it out alive and better than ever.
Fallows’ first criterion is a unified understanding that divided political views and opinions shouldn’t be a primary concern. Some areas find it difficult to work together when they don’t see eye to eye on politics at the national level, but those who rise above that potentially divisive factor are able to focus on more immediate community concerns and accomplish more. Utah is generally more conservative, but our thriving economy and business expansion have opened our doors to very successful companies and increased collaboration among people with potentially differing political views. While we dominate conservatively, downtown Salt Lake is known for its rich LGBT community. The U, with its sister campus in Korea, welcomes integration with open arms, furthering the area’s cooperation and diversity.
As I mentioned in a previous column, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plays a major role in keeping Salt Lake City and neighboring valleys on track and successful. In doing so, it manages to cover several of Fallows’ points. He suggests, in point two, that it’s important to have distinct local patriots who are influential and hold some prestige. The LDS church manages this to the extent that it is a distinct organization that works to push things forward, and a majority of our legislature is of LDS affiliation. This isn’t always necessarily a good thing, but our legislature usually does okay in making decisions if it can break away, at times, from its religious influence.
Additionally, the Huntsmans, a wealthy LDS family, have done a great deal of work in philanthropy and for the U. The LDS church has also teamed up with downtown and university operators to instigate real “public-private partnerships,” as Fallows calls them in point three. Here a private religious organization has teamed up with our public downtown to keep it clean, family-friendly and welcoming. It has also helped with many prominent renovations and improvements here on campus.
Fallows’ fourth point addresses whether people in an area understand and “know the civic story.” Again, the LDS church has made its claim and created a clear identity. Not only do Utah residents know, for the most part, what role the Mormons have played in establishing and sustaining successful state operations through an interesting and sometimes twisted history, but people around the globe know Utah for its Mormons, for better or worse.
Education is always a leading concern when determining future improvement and well-being. Fallows addresses this in three points. First, the area is close to a research university (point six). This aspect is known to bring in a solid student population and lifts the economy. Hmm, sound familiar? The U is one of the most prestigious medical research universities in the country, and it’s climbing the charts in many other fields. Second, Fallows says in point seven that a city needs to have an active community college that the state cares about. Salt Lake Community College has a student population of over 30,000 people as of Fall 2014, according to collegetuitioncompare.com. It is a great medium through which students can work up to university academic levels if they either can’t pay university tuition right out of high school, or didn’t qualify immediately academically. Fallow’s third academic point, corresponding to point eight in his article, is that the area has “unusual schools.” This emphasizes that schools K-12 address potential experimentation and emphases for students that typical public schools do not, like technology, religion, mathematics, etc. I personally don’t know whether these “specialty schools” play a greater role in future city/valley well-being than public schools, but Utah has a fair amount of religious-based schools and charter schools for students to enroll in.
Lastly, points five and eleven address whether the city has a downtown and craft breweries. An obvious and distinct downtown is necessary because it is considered the “bones” of the city, the reflection of everything the area represents and stands for. Its appearance and functionality matter, and Salt Lake City has, in my opinion, one of the nicest downtowns I’ve ever seen. It’s clean, airy, has great proximity to everything (mountains, resorts, recreation, freeways, other major state cities, etc.), and is well-organized and managed. Craft breweries matter as an indicator of entrepreneurship and appeal to young people. Utah, as of now, has more than ten craft breweries, which my twenty-year-old self hears are pretty great.