"The Mormon settlement of Utah was a remarkable accomplishment by a group of strong leaders and thousands of dedicated, obedient followers who were intent on establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. Their combined efforts produced the most impressive colonizing program in the history of the American West."
Those words, by historian Eugene E. Campbell, summarize why Utahns celebrate Pioneer Day. But holidays should be occasions for looking forward, as well as back, and it might be appropriate, as Utahns remember the achievements of the pioneers, to consider what foundations they are laying for tomorrow.
Brigham Young and his Mormon brethren laid out the farming settlements of Utah using a template based on a grid pattern. Today's pioneers are changing the face of urban Utah to meet the changing needs of a commuter society which has been transformed by the automobile. Cars gave 20th century Utahns unparalleled mobility and independence, but as suburban population growth continues to swallow up land along the Wasatch Front, 21st century Utahns are struggling to rethink the suburban, auto-dependent model and improve upon it.
Today's visionaries, the modern counterparts of Brigham Young, are the Smart Growth pioneers of Envision Utah, who are trying to modify the suburban template. It is far from certain that the society as a whole will embrace the principles of walkable communities and mass transit-oriented development, but the alternative of deteriorating air quality, ever longer commutes and greater dependence on imported oil is not a happy scenario.
Other transformations are remaking older models. Just a few feet from Parley P. Pratt's base meridian at the southeast corner of Temple Square, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will soon begin the redevelopment of its two downtown malls. In fact, mall redevelopment is a core question for communities throughout Salt Lake County. So is the question of big-box retailing.
Salt Lake also is making noises about suburban-style residential redevelopment in central city. But concerns in the Legislature about eminent domain and tax-increment financing threaten to deprive cities of their major tools for government-sponsored redevelopment.
Brigham Young didn't have to worry about things like that. But the Mormon pioneers did face a harsh environment defined by its limited water and today's Utahns still must pioneer better ways to be water wise.
Fortunately, they can look to Utah's first pioneers for inspiration.