Wharton: Valley's west side may not be what you think
As a reformed former Sugar House snob who regrettably made more than a few bigoted remarks over the years about our neighbors to the west, I should not have been surprised at some of the comments readers offered about a recent column about how much I enjoy the ethnic diversity near my Taylorsville home.
One reader advised those of us who live on the west side to lock up our dogs and cats. Otherwise, we might find ourselves eating them when we visit our neighborhood hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurant.
Another wondered about the homemade tattoos we west-siders sport.
"Thai, Mexican, Polynesian, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese or different African and South American," wrote still another, echoing a line in the column. "And you can get stabbed or shot in Taylorsville in any language."
I hope these folks weren't serious and the comments were made in jest. My guess is that, like many east-side Salt Lake Valley residents, they don't venture west of State Street because they think that would require a passport or a bullet-proof vest.
I understand the mentality more than I would like, having lived in the heart of Sugar House for more than 35 years. I loved that time in my life and wouldn't change anything about it. I used to make the same kind of jokes about West Valley, though perhaps not quite as harsh. Just ask my sister, who has spent her entire married life living west of State Street. Frankly, I was ignorant and very wrong.
When my wife Nancy and I decided to move into a new place about four years ago, we scoured Salt Lake and Davis Counties searching for the right neighborhood. We looked on the east benches of Salt Lake City and North Salt Lake. Our patient real estate agent took us to Sandy, Murray and Cottonwood Heights. All were excellent neighborhoods that, I'm certain, would have made a wonderful place to live.
But, time and again, we kept being drawn back to a new neighborhood in Taylorsville, where each home possessed a slightly different look. The developer put in paved walking and bicycling trails, light rail, three parks with all the amenities, a clubhouse and swimming pool. The view of the Wasatch Mountains from our front porch is stunning.
East side residents might be surprised to learn that we have all sorts of neat stuff out here such as indoor plumbing, lighted streets, honest-to-goodness malls and shopping centers, golf courses, interesting restaurants, good trail systems, nice parks, recreation facilities, cultural centers and, in the case of South Jordan, one of the highest average per capita incomes in Utah.
In my years in living in Sugar House, my car was vandalized once. The only crime I have witnessed in Taylorsville was similar. I left the doors of my truck open one night and a thief stole some spare change and emergency cash.
You hear horror stories about the traffic but the reality is my commute from Taylorsville to downtown on I-215 on a good day is perhaps five to 10 minutes longer than when I lived in Sugar House. The big commuting hangups are the slow traffic lights on 400 West in the heart of Salt Lake City.
The stereotype that galls me the most, however, is the outright racism displayed by some supposedly enlightened east-side residents who assume that because certain enclaves in West Valley, Kearns and Taylorsville contain ethnic minorities, that must certainly lead to all sorts of violent crime.
Read this paper every day and you will see that crime happens in all parts of the valley, in big cities and rural towns and involves people of every race, creed and color.
Thus, instead of being afraid or stereotyping the cultures that surround me, I do my best to celebrate them. I savor wonderful new cuisines, attempt to establish good relationships with local store owners and simply try to be nice to everyone, no matter their ZIP code.
Just as I had wonderful neighbors in Sugar House, I also have great friends in Taylorsville. If more people took the time to explore different parts of our valley, perhaps some of the inaccurate and even hateful stereotypes a few harbor might disappear.