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In the 15 years Levi and Michelle de Oliveira lived in their Glendale house, they watched as the water stopped running through slides at the Raging Waters park.
The decorative rocks that separated the fiberglass characters that used to greet kids to the park eventually were covered in graffiti. The amenity that once made neighbors proud became an area that concerned them.
“It’s been an abandoned block for too long,” Levi de Oliveira said. “And we’ve had a lot of problems with crime and homelessness, and you name it.”
Being just a few blocks away from the shuttered water park meant the couple were closer to these issues, he said. But over the past nine months, he has received at least a call a week from real estate buyers asking about the home.
So, what changed?
Michelle de Oliveira believes the callers are home flippers who haven’t offered a sweet enough deal yet. Her husband has another theory: They may be drawn to the redevelopment of the former water park into the ambitious Glendale Regional Park.
Once completed, the 17-acre project will include an outdoor pool, trail connector, open green space, playgrounds and a skating ribbon, among other amenities. Perks also will feature a connection to the Jordan River Trail and easy access to downtown.
The park’s first phase is expected to open by next year.
Levi, a member of the city’s planning commission, sees the future park as a promising path forward for a neighborhood that faces no shortage of challenges.
“I’m a minority, and I’m all for home prices going up,” he said, “and just because we’ve historically been a more poor neighborhood, I don’t think that we should settle for that and … remain the poor neighborhood in the city.”
And that transformation is already underway. The 900 West corridor between 1700 South and 2100 South is garnering more attention, city officials say, and property sales are opening the door to town houses and other small-scale developments.
Potential ‘green gentrification’
The area’s evolution may be good news for Levi, who owns his home, but neighbors who rent may have to brace for an increased cost of living as excitement swirls around an important investment in the community.
It’s a concern that has percolated in underserved neighborhoods in other cities across the country, according to Alessandro Rigolon, an assistant professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah.
Those projects have led to significant gentrification in their surroundings, Rigolon said. Three years after The 606 broke ground, prices of single-family homes in the area jumped by 48.2%, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Glendale Regional Park would check many boxes for what Rigolon refers to as “green gentrification.”
In a tight housing market, incorporating a large green investment — in this case, $27 million — tends to attract wealthier newcomers. In some places, that has led to the displacement of low-income residents.
Rigolon’s research of other cities has shown examples of home value appreciations and rent increases within a 10-minute walk of the new amenity.
Price hikes take time, but even an announcement of a major project may influence prices, Rigolon said. It’s not uncommon for developers and prospective residents to try to get into neighborhoods before planned amenities drive up costs.
“Controlling the land early on in those processes is fundamental,” he said, “whether it is by acquiring land through the city’s Redevelopment Agency or housing nonprofits with the intent of increasing offers for those who might face displacement.”
The improvements coming to the west side present a tricky balance, Rigolon said. Parks pack positives, such as increased life expectancy for those who live near them, but they also bring about housing uncertainty for those who have long lived in lower-income neighborhoods.
“There’s going to be a lot of money pouring into the west side for green spaces, trails and the like, and it’s great from a park equity perspective because the west side definitely needs more of that and deserves it,” Rigolon said. “But without adequate provision of subsidized housing, and in a state that prevents cities from stabilizing rents, that is something that concerns me.”
Nick Norris, the city’s planning director, says officials are aware of the effects of green gentrification, pointing to the desirability of land around the east side’s Liberty Park.
“It is definitely something that we’re paying attention to,” he said, “when it comes to the Glendale Regional Park.”
How is the city preparing?
Turner Bitton, chair of the Glendale Neighborhood Council, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the voter-approved bond that will steer millions of dollars to the future park. But he also knows that the major investment means having to think about how to prevent gentrification.
Bitton said a small area plan could guide development throughout the southeastern part of the neighborhood to maintain the area’s affordability.
“When I look at our neighborhood, I think it really struggles from a lack of density,” Bitton said. That density doesn’t have to come only from larger buildings, it could come from putting new homes in vacant lots.
While the neighborhood council chair worries about rising prices, he doesn’t think the new park will necessarily breed gentrification as long as the city fosters zoning changes that allow higher densities in the neighborhood.
“It’s a mix of these new resources coming in with the park,” he said “and a lack of ability for the neighborhood to densify in a gentle way.”
The city, Norris said, is already considering drawing up a small area plan.
With time carved out for community input and depending on the available resources, he said, a plan could be drafted in nine to 12 months.
The wider west-side master plan, meanwhile, already considers bringing in new housing types to minimize displacement.
Adopted in 2014, the plan suggests building “missing middle” housing on industrial lots around 1700 South and 900 West, along with larger-scale, mixed-use developments on Redwood Road and 1700 South.
“The next step is working with the community to add some definition to what that means and what type of growth is appropriate in both of those locations,” Norris said, “with the intent of expanding the possibilities for people to live in the area without putting all the pressure on those who already do live in the neighborhood.”
Construction on Glendale Regional Park is set to begin this summer.
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.