Mendenhall: Salt Lake County “Cool-Zones” Aren’t Inclusive

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Amen Koutowogbe

A couple rests under the shade with their dogs at the Liberty Park, Salt Lake City, Utah on June 17, 2022. (Photo by Amen Koutowogbe | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Addison Mendenhall, Opinion Writer

 

Salt Lake County recently announced their implementation of cool zones,” which provide citizens an escape from the blistering summer heat. Cool zones offer air-conditioning and fresh, cold water, plus the chance to learn about summer activities county-wide.

However, upon further investigation, these cool zones are not inclusive and marketed solely for elderly people and disabled individuals. While I applaud the emphasis on these two groups, the cool zones don’t encompass other groups in need of the same resources throughout the summer months. Excluded groups include children out of school for the summer, teenagers in need of volunteer experience and adults who work in the heat. 

Although cool zones are a good idea, they are exclusive and should be redesigned to better serve the entire community.

Who Benefits Now

In Salt Lake County, adults 65 and older make up about 11.5% of the population, with disabled individuals making up 23%. People in the two groups can already access care facilities specifically catering to their needs, including senior centers and residential care programs. These care facilities are equipped with the same amenities provided at cool zone locations. But not everyone in the community can access these centers and programs.

Children Out of School

The 2020 Census estimated that 26.6% of Salt Lake County households contained children under the age of 18. During the summer months, these children are not in school, so their parents and caregivers may not be around to entertain or provide them with activities. Most parents can’t take summers off to spend time with their children, making plans for finding summer childcare difficult.

I know my parents struggled with not knowing where my siblings and I were or what we were doing to entertain ourselves during summer. However, knowing that these children have a safe place to go would likely put thousands of parents’ minds at ease. Salt Lake County should offer children access to cold water, air conditioning, free activities and resources through the cool zone program.

Who to Include

Aside from children, there are many other groups that Salt Lake County could include to make cool zones more inclusive. These include workers who are out in the sun all day and college students traveling between classes. If they had access to cool zone amenities, it may reduce the likelihood of dehydration or heat stroke. Cool zones could offer multiple groups relief from heat-related health conditions and possibly benefit by including other demographic groups.

Limits Through Location

Salt Lake County libraries host reading challenges every summer. I’ve participated in this challenge since the first grade, but my family only knew of it because we lived down the street from a library. Libraries also provide several arts and crafts activities for various age groups. This last week, kits were handed out to children age nine and younger to make Father’s Day crafts. Some families and individuals may not know about these activities, which is why they are promoted at county-sponsored events like cool zones. However, if cool zones exclude people under a certain age or in general, individuals cannot educate themselves about these great resources and activities.

Volunteer Opportunities

In addition to benefiting the public, volunteers seeking hours or experience could build their resumes and offer assistance in cool zone programs throughout the summer. Creating a more inclusive program could provide more opportunities for people to gain volunteer hours. Utah boasts the No. 1 spot in self-reported volunteer efforts, falling at a 51% volunteer rate. Increasing volunteer opportunities through the cool zone initiative would only better serve our community members. Salt Lake County already has the foundation for a great program. We just need to take the next step and open the program to all ages.

Ensuring that our communities foster inclusive spaces rather than divisive ones is key in feeling a sense of belonging and unity. But right now, Salt Lake County cool zones are exclusive. We must work on making programs and initiatives more inclusive, and in doing so, we can help spread awareness about cool zones.

 

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@addsmendenhall