This is No Amish Village

A recent editorial in the Deseret News criticized our Administration's attempts to enliven downtown Salt Lake City and to realize the area's potential as a community gathering place, where people can mingle, enjoy a variety of entertainment choices, and experience the joy of learning about one another. When asked by the New York Times about the Deseret News editorial, I commented on the writer's obvious resistance to change, wondering (rather flippantly, I admit) why, if some of the good folks at Deseret News oppose change so much, they might not want to move to an Amish village. (For those who missed the point, this was said tongue-in-cheek, with reference to the many people who have written letters to the editor saying that if people don't like the way things have been done here for so long, they should move. I have always been offended by that "love-it-or-leave" attitude and certainly did not mean to convey my own version of it.)

While I have enormous respect for the Amish people and their convictions, Salt Lake City is not an Amish village. It is a place of great diversity, progressing and changing in ways that have the potential to enrich all of our lives. Our city enjoys an immense wealth of cultural, artistic, dining, and nightlife opportunities, as well as a broad spectrum of people. Our growing diversity requires an open-minded approach, where we respect and honor a variety of viewpoints, and provide choices for everyone. As I was quoted as saying in the New York Times article, "This is an amazing place that is misrepresented. This is a place where people of any faith, any ethnicity, any race, can get along."

Salt Lake City's downtown used to be a place filled with people, where something was always happening and people from many miles around enjoyed walking the streets, dining, and shopping. As several Deseret News readers have pointed out, realizing this vision for our downtown doesn't require greater availability of alcohol. You don't need alcohol to have a good time, and many in our community, including me, often enjoy Salt Lake City's cultural, arts and entertainment offerings without alcohol ever entering the picture. Revitalizing our downtown is not about more alcohol. It is about more choices. It is about providing a gathering place where people of all kinds can enjoy themselves, mingling in a safe and interesting environment. The Olympics has proven that enormous crowds of people can mingle safely and enjoyably in our downtown area - and that local residents love the excitement and vibrancy these sorts of events create.

Some people do not want our downtown to become more interesting, diverse, and enjoyable. They seem to like empty streets and storefronts. I simply, but respectfully, disagree with them.

Everyone must make their own choices about being involved in our community, and some may prefer to stay home. However, breaking through people's isolation, encouraging people to get to know each other, and providing them opportunities to have fun in their own way is good for Salt Lake City and a major goal of our Administration.

In the coming weeks and months, we will be working to make our downtown area an active gathering place for all kinds of people. We will revitalize the area by encouraging new housing development, business growth, and, perhaps most importantly, a vibrant street atmosphere where people will be able to gather, mingle, and gain a better appreciation for our common humanity and our powerful diversity.