I’m not just talking about green space. The plans we’ve seen so far include green swaths meandering between what designers hope are employee-filled business buildings. These are nice and important. Open spaces help a community breathe.
I’m talking about a large regional park with a grand entrance, many acres of rolling green hills with trees, statues, fountains, perhaps an amphitheater and maybe some carnival rides — the type of place you would load up the minivan on a Saturday and drive to so you could relax for hours.
I’m talking about a destination. I’m talking about what Frederick Law Olmsted, the 19th century curator of New York’s Central Park, described as a place that could “supply the hundreds of thousands of tired workers” with “a specimen of God’s handiwork.”
This idea has some history behind it. The last time the state of Utah moved its main prison was in 1951, when it tore down the old facility in Salt Lake City and built the one in Draper. That’s when the city decided to build Sugarhouse Park where the old one stood.
Try to imagine Sugar House today without it. Would be as inviting? Likewise, try to imagine Salt Lake City without Liberty Park, an area that obviously could fetch tons of cash if it were subdivided for development today.
Turn that way of thinking on its head. Imagine, instead, what losing Liberty Park would do property values in the surrounding area.
Too many people tend to view parks as money pits. They cost a lot to build and maintain. You need lots of water and a good-sized crew for maintenance, gardening and law enforcement.
That’s only one side of it.
Plenty of research suggests parks add much more than they cost. Studies have put this benefit at anywhere from 20% to 33% in increased property values in an area that could extend as far as a third of a mile around the park.
And there are other benefits. A regional park would enhance exercise in an age of obesity. Imagine thousands of people lifting their heads from their phones long enough to fill their lungs with air. It could be the home of robust community events and concerts.
It could show that the state is serious about preserving the environment. Regardless of your opinion on global climate change, environmental consciousness is a draw for corporate relocation, and that means economic development.
I’m not talking about using the entire 700-acre Draper prison site for a park. Plenty of land is available for both a large regional park and a robust business area and research complex. But make a large park the center of those plans and watch what happens.
A Deseret News story last week described the soon-to-be vacated prison site as a one-of-a-kind opportunity in the nation, a rare blank canvas on which to design something new, prosperous and attractive. The site is large, it’s in the center of the so-called Silicon Slopes area — one of the fastest growing tech hubs in the nation. It’s near transit lines that could be expanded to connect it with the rest of the metro area. And the entire site has one owner, the state of Utah. Or, in other words, the people of the state of Utah.
That sounds like the perfect description of an ideal site for a regional park.
The Deseret News story quoted an official from HOK in San Francisco, talking about how unique the site is. HOK is the firm that designed Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City, often described as the most beautiful minor league park in the nation. The firm ought to be able to do just as good a job on a regional park in Draper, then sit back and watch the accolades pour in.
It would be one way to make sure people a century from now are still talking about the area. Chances are, they would ponder how much poorer the area would be without it.