by Allen Leigh, contributor
When I moved to Utah about 20 years ago, I worked part-time for the local telephone company in Salt Lake City doing outdoor telephone work. This caused me to be in many neighborhoods in the city and allowed me to see how ethnic and lower-income groups are slowly spreading out from the central part of the city.
When the pioneers first settled Salt Lake City, they lived in areas near the temple. As more converts to the church moved to Utah, and as the population grew due to high birth rates, the settlement of the city spread out in all directions. As I did my telephone work, I realized that neighborhoods originally created by European white immigrants were becoming Spanish-speaking neighborhoods due to immigration from Mexico and areas south. I didn’t see a lot of mixed neighborhoods due to affluent white people moving into neighborhoods occupied by Latinos and African-Americans.
The growth of the city by European white families is slowly changing. For example, 60 years ago my in-laws built a house on the East bench of the city. That was a new neighborhood on the outskirts of the city and was mainly occupied by young white couples. Today, that neighborhood is slowly becoming a mixed neighborhood as older people, like my in-laws, die and younger people of various backgrounds take their place. The high cost of property in that area is still keeping lower-income people out, but apartment buildings are being built to satisfy the needs of people.
I visited one neighborhood just north of the oil refineries, and I was saddened to see that the houses there were old and needed a lot of repair. Lots were small and were full of weeds. The people I encountered had lower educational levels and much lower income than most neighborhoods in the suburbs of the city. I saw a small LDS building that was boarded up and not used. I realized that 100 years ago, that neighborhood was probably a thriving area in which people lived with high hopes for themselves and the future. But, that neighborhood was in the path of the industrial growth of the city, and people moved from the neighborhood. People with low incomes moved into the houses.
I wonder if the change of “white” neighborhoods to ethnic neighborhoods isn’t due more to economic reasons than to prejudicial attitudes of white people moving to other areas. This neighborhood that I visited is an example of people moving due to economic reasons, in this case economic problems caused by industrial growth in the north-western part of Salt Lake City. People like to be among others similar to themselves, and if a neighborhood changes due to economic or immigration reasons, people will move from that neighborhood.