This summer, the Utah Legislature voted to cut funding for essential services just as Utah was reaching its highest recorded COVID-19 infection rate to date.
According to the recent Tribune article, some modest funding was able to be saved from the chopping block for education and human services, but the cuts will still result in the closure of at least three community health clinics and other essential services.
And my neighborhood, Rose Park, will lose funding for the Jordan River Parkway, a vital resource for nearby nature that is critical right now, as we are holed up in our houses to weather the pandemic. Additional funding was cut for air quality monitoring, even as we know that new research links poor air quality with higher deaths due to coronavirus.
The name Rose Park should call to mind a pristine field lined with delicate roses. One would imagine the air is sweet and crisp from the abundance of roses.
But there’s nothing sweet about the air in Rose Park.
In my neighborhood, there are days when the air reeks to the point of prompting me to avoid the outdoors all together. My mother will open the windows to ventilate our kitchen after an intense session of Ethiopian cooking, only to have the pungent polluted air intrude into our home. I grew up not knowing that most people considered rain to smell pleasant because the smell I’ve always known is far from pleasant.
This is the reality for many residents of western Salt Lake neighborhoods. A reality that goes unnoticed by far too many of our eastern counterparts.
Can I blame them for not noticing, though? Unless one is frequently traveling across both sides of the “line”, the line that is somewhere around 300 West and distinctly divides Salt Lake into its industrial west and residential east, they wouldn’t notice the stark yet overlooked differences between the two experiences.
They wouldn’t notice that the organic food stores and hip vegan bakeries and charming boutiques fade into corner stores and Little Caesars once they venture west, until they actually venture west. Why I divide my grocery list into two, one list for my local grocery store and the second for items like almond butter and tofu (that aren’t sold at my neighborhood store), is an important conversation saved for another time. Now, I want to address another set of disparities.
At a time of a health crisis compacted with civil unrest from police brutality, cutting the budgets of essential programs for Westside communities will only harm those vulnerable residents that are disproportionately impacted by the aforementioned issues. My community, a community populated by low-income, minority, and/or refugee residents like myself, already needed a helping hand before the storm that is 2020 rolled in. These budget cuts are a proverbial hand to the throat to residents like me. The cuts are a double hand to the throat once one learns that Utah is providing tax exemptions and funding to corporations like EnergySolutions and the Inland Port Authority, the same corporations that are polluting the air of my community.
Proceeding with these budget cuts will feed into structural racism in the form of environmental inequity. The cuts will also create a greater disparity between socioeconomic classes.
I can’t breathe. I can’t blossom into the healthy rose I am meant to be when my neighborhood’s air and rain is dirty. I urge legislators to not only stop contributing to the detrimental factors of my neighborhood, but to also reverse the developments that jeopardize the health and wellbeing of my neighbors and me.
Mahider Tadesse is a senior at East High School.