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Displacement in the face of an affordable housing crisis is a well-known and feared threat on Salt Lake City’s west side.
Grocery stores have closed, beloved restaurants have relocated and, all too often, multiple generations of a family need to move in together to be able to stay in the neighborhood.
The west side is changing, including those places, those community treasures, that forged its character.
So NeighborWorks Salt Lake and the University of Utah’s City and Metropolitan Planning Department have formed a “West Side Tesoros,” a multipronged effort to document the places and stories that matter to west-siders.
The project plans to produce brochures (including one about west-side murals), according to a news release, and a “living digital map” that contains stories about the places (existing or long gone) that west-siders cherish.
“The goal is really to bring people together around the places that matter in the community,” U. professor Caitlin Cahill said Wednesday. “There are so many strengths in your community — whether we’re talking about religious institutions, about murals, about art, about culture, places where people gathered to eat that are under threat of displacement.”
Students interviewed west-siders Wednesday (they will do so again Saturday) at the Mestizo Coffeehouse about the places that matter to them. The residents pinned tags with their choices on a large map. Some wrote little notes with explanations of why these were important neighborhood spots.
“Where do you feel like you belong? What places reflect your culture, communal values, your sense of self and identity?” organizers asked participants. For some, these questions hit home.
During Jasmine Walton’s childhood in the Guadalupe neighborhood, the Taqueria El Rey de Oros was a staple, a place her family could buy full meals for under $10. Then the restaurant moved to West Jordan.
“Places like that, we are sad to see them go because they’re just such cherished places,” she said. “And they’re so affordable.”
Other participants added Riverside Park, where scenes for the 1993 film “The Sandlot” were filmed; libraries that helped families find valuable resources; and coffee shops where they met new and old friends.
West-siders who can’t make it to the coffee shop can also participate online by filling out a survey.
“This map, hopefully, will help us document maybe some of those places that don’t exist anymore and maybe why they left,” said Walton, who also directs community initiatives at NeighborWorks Salt Lake, “so that we can say, ‘These are the gaps that we’re experiencing on the west side,’ and there might be some solutions on how we address them as a community.”
Mestizo Coffeehouse is already on the map of community treasures.
“One of my baristas came to me and when I interviewed her,” said co-owner David Galvan, “her comment was ‘Mestizo has always been a safe house for me.’ That’s an overworked word, but we think we are a safe house, and we think we’re a welcoming place.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.