Utah could use a little beautification

Matt Gade, Deseret News Archives

During World War II, Germany destroyed Great Britain’s House of Commons Chamber. When it came time to rebuild the structure, an argument ensued. Some members of Parliament wanted to rebuild the chamber in a semi-circular design, but Winston Churchill favored the same rectangular pattern that existed before the bombing because he felt it bolstered the two-party system. He famously uttered, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

I’ve always appreciated this profound phrase. We shape our homes, communities and cities, and afterwards they influence how we feel and interact with one another. This sentiment harkens back to the City Beautiful Movement of the 1890s, which inspired Chicago’s magnificent waterfront area and the development of the Washington, D.C., Mall. The idea was not just to pursue beauty for its own sake, but to pursue beauty because it promoted civic virtues. I’m persuaded that Utah could benefit from a beautification movement.

Utah is urbanizing at a rapid pace. Last year, 14 of the state’s 15 fastest growing counties were located in or adjacent to Utah’s metropolitan areas. In the last census, 91 percent of Utah’s population lived in an urban area, a concentration that has increased steadily over the past 80 years. Utah currently ranks as the ninth most urban state in the country, and there is no sign that urbanization will subside any time soon.

While urbanization makes economic sense because it creates economies of scale and agglomeration effects, it can also lead to congested, unattractive and polluted living conditions. Our state needs a Utah Beautiful Movement to keep us beautiful and prosperous over the long term.

I’d start by recognizing that beautification requires an enduring commitment and years to take hold. The important thing is to start now by creating a vision, identifying a funding source and beginning to invest.

Here are some beautification ideas that are ripe for investment:

Freeway landscaping

Let’s admit it, Utah’s freeways are ugly. They lack any sense of identity other than “Get out of my way; I’m in a hurry.” I’d like to see our freeways enhanced with native plants, branded markers and consistent signage that assists with wayfinding, minimizes visual distractions and preserves important view sheds.

Open space and trails

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The magnificent 80-acre Liberty Park and the attractive Murray City Park provide refuge for city dwellers and lungs for the metro area. We need more grand parks and lots of trails and pathways that lead to them. I think it would be wonderful to “daylight” our creeks and finish our “range to river” trail system. A portion of the state prison site in Draper should be carefully planned open space, and it would be great to create more public places for families and children at the heart of Utah’s urban center.

Gateway entrances

Utah has dozens of important gateways, including state border crossings, the international airport and entrances to our national parks and canyons. I applaud the Salt Lake City International Airport for the beautiful landscaping at our airport and look forward to the welcome mat our new airport will provide. We can also improve the entrances to our canyons. Everyone can learn something from the beautiful way Springdale has protected the entrance to Zion National Park.

Monuments and buildings

Utah has a remarkable history that can be commemorated with greater care. The Pony Express Route through Utah’s west desert has a half dozen markers and monuments that are unkept and vandalized. Other aspects of our history could be celebrated as well. We did a great job in commemorating the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, but this too needs a refresh. The restoration of Utah’s state Capitol was a high point for historic preservation; each generation must do its part.

These are just a few of many ideas. Utah is a beautiful state. Let’s protect and enhance this beauty by investing in a Utah Beautiful Movement.

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