Fight for the Future

Controversy is rocking our neighborhood these days.  Someone knocked down a house here seven years ago, and built a ridiculously huge and garish palace in the middle of our community.  It prominently features three garage doors as its major archeological features, and is now (un)affectionately known by the locals as the Garage Mahal.  We’ve had a few more knock downs since then, and some new houses built in their places.  To some of us, these developments represent a basic (though sometimes unfortunate) exercise of personal property rights.  To others, each home lost is a bright star of our heritage, cruelly snuffed from the sky; each new build just one more step toward a neighborhood of soviet-era concrete tenements.  It’s a fine neighborhood and all, but I’m telling you, I don’t think it’s worth the bloodshed that’s coming.

So the City has proposed to make our neighborhood a Local Historic District, which would make it harder to build additions, and almost impossible to knock a house down.  Ever since that became clear, everyone has lost their minds.  In their occasional lucid moments, both sides have good points.  The preservationists are concerned that one of the few old neighborhoods in Salt Lake that has survived largely intact is now seeing some evolution.  There are homes here that do stand out in Utah, (though they would be utterly commonplace in most other states).  Some of the new construction is a little jarring, and people get upset when builders push them around and place their outhouses too close to the adjacent property lines.  One of the leading proponents of the historic designation appears to have come upon her activism largely because a new house went up next to her sister’s house and blocked her sister’s light.  On the other side are most of the younger families who hope to add on to their houses one day to accommodate growing families.  Standing furtively behind them are more than a few ambitious builders who look at the floor and shuffle their feet when their obvious motivations are pointed out.


People talk about the good of the community a lot.  Surprisingly, people with bigger houses seem to think the community will be best protected by not letting very many other houses get too big, and people in smaller homes believe the best way to preserve a neighborhood is to let it evolve the way it wants to.  Every argument is filled with subtext (that lady is obviously a staunch liberal from out of state trying to carve out an un-Utah in the middle of Utah; that guy is clearly a Mormon trying to preserve a critical mass of kids to keep youth programs afloat).  Alliances are drawn along familiar lines of income, religion, political philosophy, and self-interest, but not a single one of those elements has come up one single time in any public discussion.  We talk about dormers and roof lines as a way to work out our own mixed up feelings of contempt and community and in-groups and out-groups.  And we spend a lot of time reprocessing the code to try to figure out what was really said.

Macy appointed me as our family representative to go to all the neighborhood meetings.  I go to as many as I can, but I do it under my own false pretenses.  The reason to go to these meetings is to be heard and to participate in a serious process that will effect some 1500 families.  But underneath all that, I could never miss these meetings, even if I didn’t care at all about the outcome.  There’s just way too much drama to stay home.  People shouting at their representatives, at city staff, at each other, over the true energy efficiency of wood windows and the actual effect of guidelines on seismic retrofitting– that’s just irresistible.  Ulterior motives are pointed out and dire futures predicted.  It’s very serious stuff, but it’s so much fun!  One guy got up and accused the city staff (who advocates for the new designation) of misleading the crowd.  The dowdy lady heading the presentation took the mike back and coolly told the rest of the audience that she has a history with that guy, and she’ll handle him later.  Her hand in her pocket appeared to be clutching something very like brass knuckles.  The crowd wants to vote and the bumbling city council man gets up and and does everything he can to get them NOT to vote.  People shout him down, everyone’s angry, everyone’s bitter.  And the vote comes out exactly split down the middle.

On the way out of the meeting, I stop to chat with a small group of grumbling men, a few of whom I know.  They’re arguing about how best to kill this proposal.  One guy has a lightbulb go off in his brain and says “hey- this is about rights!  We need to call in the ACLU.  They’ll help!”  Another guy dismisses him.  “Listen- I have a lot of political knowledge.  I know how this stuff is done.  And I also happen to know many people at the highest levels of the Tea Party.  I’ve told our council man that the Tea Party is getting very interested in this issue, and he’s shaking in his boots now.  Once the Tea Party gets involved, this thing will die instantly.”

I start thinking about the highest leaders of the Tea Party marching along in unison with the ACLU, squaring off against the preservation crowd, who may soon call in MoveOn and the Club for Growth for backup.  And I instantly make up my mind about the big question in my mind: Yeah, I’m definitely going to have to be here for the next meeting.

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14 Responses to Fight for the Future

  1. Braden says:

    Sounds fun, Ry. Wish I could be there. This was the sort of context in which the famous “Jail City” comment got made. I hope you are able to find such a durable and reliable material to make you laugh.

  2. Wade says:

    Solution: move your family south of 13th Ry, we’ve got so much Salt of the Earth on this side of the divide that there will never be a need to declare a historic district to preserve things the way they should be.

  3. Skewever and ever says:

    Fascinating Ryan. I’m glad someone is there to document these events. This story could be a case study in a college political science, anthropology, or ethnic studies class. Remember the movie “Do the Right Thing” Seems like your living it right now, a little microcosm representative of thousands of years of conflict. Comes down to a battle of opposing non-compatible visions.

    “My view of our neighborhood/country/religion/manifest destiny/freedom/8th Ward Campout/immigration/parenthood/war/peace/pizza toppings/nuclear nonproliferation/labor vs. capital is better than yours and I’m willing to fight/kill you for it.”

  4. Ben Pratt says:

    Isn’t granting Historic District designation just another way of saying “Keep out if you don’t want to live in a museum neighborhood/time capsule?”

    All those who fought for the designation will be so embarrassed when they can’t install domestic robot recharging stations in their Forever Young houses.

    Then, of course, 15 years later your neighborhood will be one of the last surviving human enclaves following the robot uprising.

  5. Davis says:

    Man. It’s hard to know who to root for here.

  6. Christian says:

    lol Ben.

    All I can think about is the window cleaning nightmare that pictures house would be. Those little rectangles look like individual little panes. Tens and tens of them!

    Class warfare at it’s finest. Although in this case, it’s the wealthy people with less than 3 children vs. the wealthy people with more than 3 children. Let me know where I can send my donation. I really do hope you can get the Tea Party involved. Think of how great it would be to have Sarah Palin hold a rally at the local park in support of the property rights our founding fathers died for. Well didn’t die for, but you know, wrote about.

  7. ron says:

    i can’t agree more with the entertainment value of these types of city meetings. a few moons ago i was working in jersey city, nj. the city was adopting a new ordinance that would allow high rise condos to be built in a historic district. you can imagine the outrage from the local residents. one woman had attended the meeting a year prior when most of the councilmen and women were against the ordinance. she recorded the events and had now returned a year later, when most of the councilmen and women were now for it, and read word for word their positions from the previous year. the room erupted with applause and cheers as the flip-flopping councilmen and women squirmed in their seats and looked for a window to jump out of. and just when i thought it couldn’t get any better, one local residential stormed out of the room and just before exiting cursed out the attorney of the high power developer behind the ordinance and hurled a loogie in his face. man it was good stuff.

  8. StefStar says:

    I was a journalism major for a minute, and my beat was Nibley, UT (Cache County, for you foreigners). I wanted to kill myself every time I went to city council or P&Z meetings because they were so small-town boring…until one fateful night, when one council member had the audacity to mention a possible trail system running through the city.

    Man oh man.
    I think several family feuds were born that night, and the issue was essentially some pavement and railroad ties along the river. Turns out small town folk don’t like change and are NOT afraid to fight it.

    *One tip, though–Don’t ever leave a meeting early! I did that once and wrote a story about it for my class, not finding out until my story ran that I had missed an all-out, brawling nail-biter of an ending, they having reached a completely different outcome than I reported. End of my career, I guess. And I missed the drama, which is even more sad.

  9. Serene says:

    Be sure to have yoru camera with you at all times… just in case a few punches are thrown.

  10. Charlotte says:

    I live in a small beach front neighborhood. As the elderly home owners move on (either in retirement or from this world) almost all their beach cottages are being torn down and replaced with very large homes (many vacation homes). I see the look in the long timers eyes as they pass these homes. I’m kinda wishing the neighborhood association had some monthly meetings now. Smack down between the elderly and upwardly mobile. Could be fun.

  11. 13. That’s how many posts behind I am. We’ve had copious amounts of family in town since May 12th and have just moved from Philly to St. Louis…and since we’re extra cool and decided to go for the bigger (smallish) unit in our complex at the last second, it won’t be ready until the 10th (and we’ve been here since May 31st). Luckily they’re putting us up for free in their display unit until it’s ready – the downside being we have to act like mannequins when prospective residents come through. Oh man, am I funny or what? Well, long story short, we’ll still have family in town for the next few weeks and have been internet-less since we’ve been here. Real fun taking turns going to the library to check emails.

    Funny post. I had no idea those community council meetings could get so heated. I’m not sure which way I’d go, but I’d love to see the ACLU and Tea Party working hand in hand.

  12. Carol Berky says:

    Just noticed a new webcam site called Chat Spasm, a chat site with musicians.

  13. Ben Pratt says:

    That’s funny! I just noticed a spam bot!

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