Tribune Innovation Lab sparks ideas for Salt Lake Valley’s west side

The Innovation Lab hosted a summit to discuss with residents new ideas for the underrepresented communities west of Interstate 15.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Laura Schnurr, left, Jon Ball and Michael Parker share thoughts and ideas with group members at a Solutions Summit hosted by The Innovation Lab in West Valley City on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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Solutions to community problems and challenges need to come from within the community.

That was one of many takeaways from the Solutions Summit hosted by The Salt Lake Tribune’s Innovation Lab, held Monday in West Valley City.

Focused on topics affecting the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, the Summit brought together residents, government officials, leaders from nonprofits, businesses and education to discuss the west side’s success stories and where communities would like to focus their efforts moving forward.

“I got really emotional when I heard the beginning presentations,” said Almaida Yanagui, a manager at University Neighborhood Partners and a longtime resident of Salt Lake City’s Rose Park neighborhood.

Paul Huntsman, chairman of the Tribune Board, highlighted the importance of building trust among communities while speaking to the room. While the Tribune has established itself as a trusted news source over its 150 year history, he said that trust is maintained through a constant effort.

“That trust is fleeting,” Huntsman said. “Everyday we have to reestablish that trust.”

As CEO of Ivory Homes, Clark Ivory acknowledged he and his businesses have benefited from Utah’s population growth, even as the growth has brought its own challenges particularly in housing and transportation. Ivory wants to help the state grow in a way that benefits Utahns, he said.

“I believe we all need to look a little deeper into these challenges we face,” said Ivory, who chairs the Innovation Lab’s advisory council.

“We have to be careful that we grow right and grow the best that we can.”

To Taylor Randall, president of the University of Utah, innovations come from a mix of perspectives, which is why stakeholders of all backgrounds should come together to address possible solutions to the problems west side residents face, including the wealth disparities and worse health outcomes.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. Taylor Randall, University of Utah president, speaks at a Solutions Summit hosted by The Innovation Lab in West Valley City on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

“I think we sit on an opportunity here in West Valley City where those forces are combining,” Randall said. “It will be exciting as you talk today to see how you can combine them in unique ways.”

But outsiders assuming they know what the community needs and the best solutions doesn’t lead to progress, according to many of the speakers and attendees. Thoughtful, continuous discussions with community members is what leads to systematic change.

The amount of attendees that seemed truly interested in making change on the west side gave Yanagui hope for the future, she said. Not only were the attendees interested in making positive change for these communities, they also “did their homework” by thoughtfully researching the communities beforehand.

Several members of the University Neighborhood Partners program attended the event, including Erick Garcia, who spoke to the attendees about the importance of investing in existing resources and talent on the west side.

“Communities and people thrive when we build on their strengths,” Garcia said.

Attendees from diverse backgrounds discussed the west side in small groups, allowing the participants to glean insights from differing perspectives.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shireen Ghorbani, left, Eva Means, and Laura Schnurr share thoughts and ideas at a Solutions Summit hosted by The Innovation Lab in West Valley City on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, said she’ll use the insights to inform her decision making in the Legislature, particularly any decisions that will affect her younger constituents for years to come.

“To see how innovative, creative and thoughtful” the younger attendees -- such as the student attendees from Roots Charter High School -- were, Weight said, “I’m interested in seeing them lead.”

A junior from Roots High School, Megan Reid, spoke at the Summit about attending a non-traditional high school on the west side helped her gain the confidence she sought.

“I’ve experienced a lot of trauma without the necessary resources to heal,” said Reid, “But Roots, and its message, ended up being a positive influence that gave me the tools to begin healing.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Roots Charter High School student Megan Reid speaks at a Solutions Summit hosted by The Innovation Lab in West Valley City on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

In Yanagui’s group, part of the discussion focused on the need for institutions to be more inclusive and how they can become more inclusive.

Some institutions, such as Salt Lake Community College and the U., have done well learning from historically marginalized or overlooked communities while others have held on too tightly to history and tradition to fully welcome the necessary outside perspectives, Yanagui said.

“Together we figured out that … some systems cannot be fixed, they need to be reimagined,” Yanagui said.