Improving Salt Lake City, one neighborhood at a time

Published: Monday, Feb. 10 2014 11:10 a.m. MST

Jonathan Olivares and Lyndsay Day rent an apartment at Art Space Bridge Project in downtown Salt Lake City Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City officials are trying to determine the best way to improve run-down sections of the city without unduly disrupting the lives of those who make their homes in these less-expensive areas.

"Cities are not static — development, redevelopment and in-fill are happening constantly to varying degrees all along the Wasatch Front," said Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency director DJ Baxter. "In Salt Lake City, we have enough vacant land that it is often possible to infuse new development energy into an area without displacing the current residents," Baxter said.

Neighborhood blight and problems came to light in the Rio Grande neighborhood last year, site of a homeless shelter, prompting Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker to roll out “our Rio Grande solutions.”

The area receives visits from cleaning crews to pick up refuse, has portable toilets, enhanced law enforcement and prosecution efforts to battle drug use, as well as services provided to those in need.

The area is one of seven Urban Renewal Areas identified for revitalization, with maps of each of these districts available at slcrda.com.

With sprucing up comes the possibility of gentrification. At its worst, gentrification threatens to displace the poor or disadvantaged while the more affluent move in. But Salt Lake City is working with stakeholders and developers to revamp with vulnerable populations in mind.

The last time residents were displaced was in 2009, when people living in a short-term motel were moved to "comparable, much improved accommodations," Baxter said.

Studies featured by NPR and The Atlantic have shown that far from being negative, gentrification may be a good thing for communities.

Columbia University's Lance Freeman shows that gentrified neighborhoods were associated with less displacement than non-gentrified ones. A working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research supports this, citing evidence that gentrified neighborhoods are appealing to middle-class minority populations.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland showed that those who remained behind in a gentrified neighborhood between 2001 and 2009 had higher incomes, and were more likely to have a bachelor's degree and better credit scores than their counterparts in non-gentrified neighborhoods. This study was limited in its scope because it did not measure how long residents had lived in an area before the dates of the study.

The Road Home in Salt Lake City is in the middle of the city's Depot District development project. Among its goals for the area, the city redevelopment agency want to develop streets and public spaces in the area to promote housing, retail and commercial development; cultivate redevelopment agency property in the district; create a year-round market with the help of the Downtown Alliance and renovate historic buildings.

Road Home executive director Matt Minkevitch said they "consider ourselves an important player in the community and an entity that can help provide solutions to neighborhood issues and the plight of our fellow residents experiencing homelessness."

At first blush a homeless shelter may not seem like an ideal neighbor for developers, but city officials recognize that the Road Home performs a valuable service.

"I'm encouraged that we are involved in discourse that could potentially lead to the development of more permanent affordable housing with supportive services that could reduce homelessness," Minkevitch said.

Artspace, located across the street, sees the Road Home as "good neighbors" who are "filling a need," according to executive director Jessica Norie, who is "looking forward to gentrification."

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