Central Park, he said, would become “the lungs of the city.” It would become an oasis for “the sanitary advantage of breathing.”
The purposes of parks haven’t changed much in the intervening 165 years, even if the habits of the people who use them have. And so, the new Bingham Creek Regional Park at 102nd South and 48th West, the first phase of which was opened in June, ought to make a lot of people breathe easier amid today’s sometimes suffocating proliferation of urban sprawl and endless growth.
This is not just another neighborhood park or green space. It’s meant as a destination for a region of people.
Mayors are prone to that kind of prose, but in this case there is truth. Parks serve as one generation’s gift to future generations, provided elected leaders keep the vision alive.
If it’s hard to imagine New York City today without Central Park, that doesn’t mean plenty of people haven’t tried. In 1918, the New York Times published a detailed graphic outlining all the “improvement” plans people had proposed during the park’s first 60 years. These included sports stadiums, a raceway and proposals to simply subdivide and develop it.
Ramsey and other city and county officials are well-aware that those dangers are constant in a fast-growing state. The Bingham Creek Regional Park is no Central Park. It will be built in three phases, eventually covering 160 acres of what used to be a gravel pit. But it is large for Salt Lake County. What may be the region’s best-known urban park, Liberty Park, is only 110 acres.
Before the third phase comes, years from now, the pressures of growth will continue. Someone may propose building homes or something else on 60 acres or so of it, trimming a tennis court or two.
The mayor wants none of that. “That has 100% been my top concern all the way along,” she said.
City Councilman Don Shelton, whose district houses the park, is equally adamant. “Current city leadership is absolutely committed to keeping this open space,” he told me.
Which is why the park will be governed by an authority, with Salt Lake County and South Jordan each having a 50% say in its future. The chances of each side giving in to development are slim. Ramsey calls it “our best guarantee.”
“I am incredibly confident the entire thing will build out.”
Public sentiment may see to it, as well. The best attended South Jordan City Council meeting in memory happened five years ago as people protested a plan to develop the nearby Glenmoor Golf Course.
The public will have its say. The park will be funded by the county’s Zoo, Arts and Parks, or ZAP, tax, which requires a public vote to renew every two years.
The hope is that people will come to cherish the new park as a defining feature of the southwest corner of Salt Lake County, as its final design is completed, the trees mature and memories are made.
And as breathing becomes more important.
In the 19th century, breathing was at a premium, given the many horses on the streets, the lack of human hygiene and the absence of deodorant. Today, we value it for different reasons. Utah’s inversions can, on occasion, make breathing difficult, but on an everyday basis 21st century people, whose noses are perpetually turned toward electronic screens, need a field somewhere to fill their lungs with air.
Politicians in other parts of the Wasatch Front should take notice. Why not include a regional park as part of the redesign for the former prison site in Draper?
While it may be hard to ignore the demands for businesses and housing, research shows that park-building pays off. One study found that property values increase 20% to 33% in areas extending to one-third of a mile around a park. Those are benefits in addition to enhancing human health in an age of obesity.
As the mayor notes wryly, no one could accuse South Jordan of not doing its share to help the demand for housing. “It’s critical that we provide a commensurate amount of open space,” she said.
My guess is that, many years from now, people won’t be able to imagine the valley without what Salt Lake County and South Jordan have just added to it.