26 April 2007

Oh Those Utah Republicans

Although there was once a day when I called myself a republican, there are many reasons why I can't support the GOP these days, especially the Utah GOP. Here's one to add to the list. A GOP delegate from Utah County believes that the devil is responsible for illegal immigration. Actually no, available jobs are the source of illegal immigration. Undoubtedly this guy loves his cheap lettuce and strawberries, nicely cut lawns, and sparkling toilets.

Besides, in a world of problems begging for practical solutions, shouldn't we be leaving the devil-banishing to the most qualified, like our religious leaders?

18 April 2007

Life in the Big City

I have to wonder if Manhattan's rental market isn't a wee bit overheated. A friend of mine sent me this advertisement from Craigslist, for a walk-in closet!

Am I ever glad I don't live there, though New York is a lovely place to visit.

17 April 2007

VisionWest 2030

My colleague and I just finished developing a logo for the general plan update we're working on. It started over a week ago, when I drew a conceptual sketch of a West Valley City "skyline." I had initially pressed for "FocusWest" as the name of the plan effort, but those in our office who had vision overcame those of us who had focus, so the name changed.

Here's how the logo began. Isn't it funny how things grow and change with collaboration and discussion? I rather like the process.

Here was one iteration of the "Focus West" logo that I kinda liked...

16 April 2007

A Trip to the Gardens

Last Friday, I took Noni (my grandmother to the uninitiated) to the Thanksgiving Point Gardens in Lehi, Utah, about a 40 minute drive from where I live. Thanksgiving Point is a remarkable place - really the type of place that could only happen here. Apparently one of the founders of WordPerfect (a Utah innovation) and his wife remarked at the beauty of an alfalfa field to the west of Interstate 15 between Salt Lake City and Provo. To save it from commercial development, they purchased the land -- and developed it themselves. They called it Thanksgiving Point, to commemorate the land and the blessings that God had bestowed on them.

As I said the project is quite unique. The enterprise is a not-for-profit company whose stated mission is to provide education and enlightenment to anyone who comes by. To this end, the project includes a couple restaurants, a movie theatre, a great interpretive archaeology museum, a model farm, exhibition and meeting space, a golf course, and these gardens. The whole effort possesses the slight fragrance of Mormon noblesse oblige. The gardens are too new to be spectacular, but in a generation or so, given the proper care, they will be. Here are some photos of the first annual Tulip Festival at the Gardens at Thanksgiving Point. Enjoy.

Where I Work

City planners are taught to be cognizant of the environment that surrounds them, so I felt perfectly justified in indulging in a field trip of my employer/city, West Valley City, to take some pictures. It's a big city, with an area of nearly 36 square miles and a population of around 120,000. It will take some time to compile a comprehensive portfolio of Utah's second largest city. But I thought I would share with you a few pictures to start.

West Valley City is one of Utah's oldest communities, and also one of its newer ones. The agrarian communities of Hunter, Granger, and Redwood were settled in the 1850's, shortly after Brigham Young's hardened pilgrims arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley. As the county grew into the 20th century, these small communities found themselves surrounded by larger cities, not the least of which was Salt Lake City. A revolt over taxation and county governance prompted the three communities to incorporate in 1980, giving rise to West Valley City. By that time, though, county planning authorities had done a lot of damage, resulting in poor roads, substandard services, and inadequate housing. West Valley City, though the second largest municipality in the state, lacks any center or real identity. In the 1990s it was known as a center for gang-related crime. Today, it is regarded as a place where the working class and the working poor live, it's known for its ethnic diversity and it's a great place to buy new tires, watch a hockey game, or order a semi truck or an earthmover, if you're in the market for one.

Yet, as a city of such size, it defies the stereotype. West Valley boasts some of the region's strongest employers, including Alliant Tech Systems, Wheeler Machinery, UPS, Discover Financial Services, and some significant home-grown enterprise, including FranklinCovey, Harmons, Winder Farms, and USANA. It also is home to a thriving multi-ethnic Chamber of Commerce, a municipally-funded center to celebrate cultural diversity (how many Utah cities have a folklorist on the payroll?), a halfway-decent theatre company, two golf courses, a state of the art city-funded fitness center, and some good schools.

Anyway, here are some photos:

This is Centennial Park, the city's main park. To the right of the image are the ballfields and on the left is the city's Family Fitness Center, a community amenity that gives Gold's Gym a run for its money, and at a fraction of the cost to the residents.

The oldest part of West Valley City is the neighborhood of Chesterfield. Nestled in the bottom of the Salt Lake Valley along the meandering Jordan River, Chesterfield exudes a rural feel - an improverished rural feel. Much of the initial platting established shortly after the pioneers founded Salt Lake remains: plots that are 20 feet wide by 150 deep -- problematic for modern development. Nonetheless change has come, even to Chesterfield. Area Muslims recently erected the Khadeejah Masjid down the street from a Samoan Evangelical Church. In two years, the region's light rail network will come through Chesterfield.

Some limited agricultural activities are acceptable in Chesterfield, although it's in the heart of a valley that's home to a million people. Long-standing residents consider this horse country, or even llama (above) or shetland pony (below) country. It's an odd neighborhood to have in a big metropolitan region. This neighborhood evokes some very strong feelings - there are those who see it incongruous in the middle of a big city, and others who value it just as it is.

A mere mile from Chesterfield is the state's most beautiful office park development, a project called Lake Park. Conveniently located near two highways and the Salt Lake International Airport, Lake Park includes a golf course and some ecologically-sensitive landscaping. The building above is a customer service center for Discover Financial Services.

Intermountain Healthcare, the state's largest hospital and health insurance provider, is headquartered in this building at Lake Park. The golf course and a dedicated wetland meanders in between the office buildings. The parking is typically hidden behind berms or landscaping.

Lake Park offers a commanding view of the Wasatch Range, specifically (from left to right) Storm Mountain, Twin Peaks, and Lone Peak.

Finally, here are a couple views of my cubicle:

15 April 2007

Starting Anew

My blog has been silent for a few months now, and for that I am deeply sorry. I'm sure there are probably one or two readers left, and I'm pleased to let you know that I am alive and well. The past two months have been challenging and exciting, indeed. There was lots to blog about, but no time or energy it seemed to sit down and write it.

You could say it all started the week of Valentine's Day. My dad and I were preparing to visit my Aunt, Uncle, and cousin in Saint Louis, with the primary intent of repainting Aunt Anne's bedroom. Uncle Bob is living in a long-term care facility, having suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2001, and the last thing my Aunt needed was a home improvement project to contend with, so we decided to relieve her of the task. That week, I fell into a fit of pique at work, where I felt unappreciated, unmotivated, and uninterested in the job and the organization I worked for. I had applied for a city planning job with the Salt Lake County Government a few weeks prior and, despite interviewing, it came to no avail. I was pretty despondent about the situation, really.

I took some time during Valentine's day to examine job opportunities, and I found one. It was a strange job announcement from West Valley City, Utah that advertised for several positions, inviting applicants to apply for any or all. Adopting the analogy that if you throw enough darts, someday you're bound to hit the bull's eye, I applied for every position they offered. The application was due the day after I read the announcement, so I thought, what the hell? Given the time I took in preparing the application (next to none), and my feelings of mediocre performance at the University, I figured I wouldn't stand a chance at any of the job prospects available, which included two grades of city planner and and two economic development positions.

That Thursday, I had Rob drop me off at the West Valley City Hall on the way to the airport to catch my flight to Saint Louis, so I could drop off the application. I made it in about ten minutes prior to the deadline. I thought nothing of it - honestly I didn't think anything would happen, so I decided to focus on the trip instead. It was going to be a lot of work, but it was also going to be some good quality time with my dad and my extended family.

Saint Louis was nice, and Dad and I conducted ourselves efficiently, completely repainting Aunt Anne's room, floor to ceiling, over two days.

When I returned, I had a voicemail waiting for me at work. It was West Valley City, and they wanted me to interview for a planner position at the beginning of that next week. Now that I was invited to interview, I decided it was time to take the prospect seriously (I didn't even include a cover letter in my application - that's how bad I was). The weekend before the interview, I drove from one end of West Valley City to the other, noting the land uses and any discontinuities that struck my eye. I also read the city's general plan. The interview went quite well, I thought, although you never know how first dates really go. I was asked that question I hate ("what is the one aspect about your work habits that you would like to improve?") and I gave an honest answer that didn't pander to the interviewer. I was later told that my candor held me in good stead against the other applicants. I demonstrated in the interview an extensive knowledge of the community's general plan.

The interview got hung up on the matter of salary. Because the advertisement did not specify salary ranges for any of the positions they were advertising, I decided I had nothing to lose by aiming high and placing a rather high number as a minimum acceptable salary on my application. The Planning and Zoning director was reviewing my application as he and two others were interviewing me. I saw him worry over a part of the application, and he said, "oh...did human resources tell you about the starting salary for the planning job?" I said no, there was no information as to the salary in the job announcement either. The director commented something to the effect that he was surprised that HR didn't cull my application because my asking salary was quite a bit higher than what they had budgeted for the position. I replied that I wanted to be considered anyway, and that they were welcome to make the most competitive offer they thought they could. Later that afternoon, I wrote the director a thank-you email, clarifying in writing that if they could match the salary I made at the University, I would definitely consider. Within minutes, he wrote back, thanking me and saying I interviewed very well!

Within a week and a half, I went from not caring about the job prospect to wanting it desperately. It's funny how situations can change your attitude about a thing. My work at the University was becoming more interminable by the day, and the interviewer's plaudits of my performance, followed by several other emails querying me on the type of benefits package I had at the University, made me quite anxious for the job. Still there was that matter of pay. For as much as I didn't like working at the University, I was not in a position to accept a significant salary decrease.

The call came in on Thursday, the first of March. I was their pick for a Planner II (a more senior grade, no less!). Within a few days they returned with a formal salary offer, one which actually resulted in an increase in salary - admittedly only $10 a week or so, but still... I have always wanted to be a planner, and this was a tremendous opportunity - indeed, a gift - to enter into a mid-level planning position without any prior direct experience (I was hired in part because of my applied research skills I learned at the University and my experience on the South Salt Lake Planning Commission). The position they intended for me was a long range planner, specifically I would be producing an update to West Valley City's general plan, a document that sets forth the city's development and planning goals for the next 30 years.

I found it very easy to say 'yes' to West Valley City. But then I was wracked with guilt over telling the University good bye. Why? I had a bad experience there that spoiled my desire to cultivate a career there. I was well paid, but not trusted and appreciated as such. Indeed, my boss used some of my research for a project for which he was being paid as a consultant. I don't know why I should feel guilty about terminating a relationship with such a mistress, but I did. My stomach was roiling as I wrote my letter of resignation. My colleagues were gracious, but in the end they didn't do anything to commemorate my time there, or my departure. Rumor had it that my boss pondered taking his staff out to lunch on the last day, but when the Dean informed him it would be an improper use of the University's resources, he backed away from the plan. Thursday, the 22nd of March was just a normal work day, although it was my last.

Leaving for the last time was such a relief. I've never been in a really bad relationship before, but the divorce certainly felt great. West Valley City appears at first blush to be an organization quite different from the University. First, there is a four-day workweek. Employees are expected to put in a ten-hour work day, starting at 7:00 am. The trade-off for such a brutal schedule is that I get every Friday off. I've always believed that so many of us suffer an imbalance in the dynamic between work and life. I for one do not live to work, I work to live. And a three-day weekend gives me one more day every week in which to live. I love it. West Valley City is one of the few municipalities in the United States to have opted out of Social Security, so there is no social security deduction from my salary. Instead, that money is allocated into a municipal pension fund and employees are invited to invest it as they see fit. It's challenging, but exciting. If I make the right decisions, the return on the investment will be well in excess of social security.

Most importantly, in the three weeks I've been in the employ of West Valley City, I've been treated with the dignity and respect I feel I am entitled to as a professional adult. People are friendly, considerate, and open to my ideas. I've been given significant latitude to determine how a general plan revision should take place, so I've had fun working on a logo, developing a program of steps to accomplish the plan, and developing an education initiative to reach out to school-aged children to get them engaged in their community.

Thanks for your patience in all this. And it's good to be back. In the coming days, I'll update you with the excitement in Rob's life, in a blog post entitled "Impounded." I'll also talk about the changes I've made to our bedroom. Stay tuned!