Thirty-six percent of Salt Lake City residents live west of State Street. This population is representative of many aspects of life in the City, yet unique assets and challenges have come to define the community. This area is home to the Jordan River, which provides a wealth of recreational and educational opportunities. With the large school-age population living in the area (20% of population), a large number of schools function to meet the educational needs of the community. Many organizations serve the population and are knowledgeable potential partners for reciprocally beneficial learning experiences (See box insert below for a list of selected assets). Perhaps the biggest challenge that concerns residents is the perception by others that life west of the freeway is different. Residents contributing to the new West Salt Lake Master Plan, “expressed frustration with West Salt Lake’s identity. They felt that others view their community as unsafe and not properly maintained. Residents wanted the positive aspects of (the area) promoted.” (West Salt Lake Master Plan, June 2012 draft). Some describe the freeway as a “glass corridor:” a barrier that is only real in that residents on both sides of the freeway believe it exists, though there is also a very real history of separation that continues to be reflected in the stark differences in income and housing value between west side neighborhoods and the rest of the city.
The population of these west side neighborhoods is much richer in diverse ethnicities than is Salt Lake City as a whole. For instance, 74.5% of Salt Lake City’s Hispanic residents live on the west side. Sixty-three% of the population of the U/NP area is from a minority ethnicity, compared to 24.9% of SLC as a whole. Although this has stimulated ethnic businesses and several multi-cultural organizations, some perceive the change as problematic. Individuals new to the United States are not familiar with cultural and legal expectations. For example, a lack of understanding of parking violations leads to an increase in parking violations. Ethnic businesses disturb long-time residents who are unable to read the languages of store signs. Institutions in the area are searching for ways to reach and better meet the needs of this changing population, many of whom are struggling themselves to navigate the City’s systems.
Housing in the UNP area is hard to come by. Only five percent of housing units are vacant, compared to just over seven percent in the City as a whole. Home ownership rates are about the same as in the rest of the city (49.9%), with just over 50% of housing being renter-occupied. However, a large proportion of west SLC residents have moved in the last twelve months. Schools report that only half of the students starting at the beginning of the school year will still be there at the end. This continual movement of students disturbs learning for both those who are moving and those who aren’t, who are impacted by waiting while new students catch up.
In the 1960’s the I-15 freeway was built, creating both a symbolic and real barrier between SLC and its west side. Renewed use of the railroad divides the area even further, from north to south. Currently, few stores west of the freeway sell basic necessities. The perception that west SLC’s population has little disposable income has deterred growth in this critical area. New retail stores would employ the local population and draw residents of other areas. The Master Plan vision for the area includes “adding more commercial retail and services. . .residents and businesses want to keep money in the community instead of having to shop in other parts of Salt Lake City, or other cities.” (West Salt Lake Master Plan, p.3, June 2012 draft). Store owners in the area are concerned about the crime rate and its effect on their ability to conduct business and draw shoppers. Neighborhoods are concerned about gangs and related violence as well as the use of drugs in the area.
Since 2000 significant public resources have been invested in the area—including reconstruction of area school buildings, a new light-rail line along the central North Temple corridor, new bike pathways, a new library, and many others). Many faculty and students have already invested themselves in this vital area of the City, hoping to better understand and partner with west SLC residents to mobilize the area’s unique strengths and resources to meet vital community needs. West SLC offers many opportunities for the University of Utah, including a growing young population from which to recruit, geographic features to study, many established organizations with which to partner, and a rich ethnic and culturally diverse population from whom to learn.
Compiled by: John Downen, Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Utah
Pam Perlich, Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Utah
Aaron Wood, Department of Linguistics, University of Utah
Sarah Munro, University Neighborhood Partners
Sources: US Census 2010, 2000; West Salt Lake Master Plan June 2012 draft, 2006-2010 American Community Survey.