Decades ago, in New York City there was a forgotten 10 acres of public space called Bryant Park at 1071 Avenue of the Americas between West 40th and West 41st Streets. By the 1980’s it had become our version of what our Pioneer Park looked like-a campground for the unsheltered, a place to buy and use drugs. Locals avoided it as much as possible even though it had some rich history in a great location in Manhattan. It was a site for military drills during the American Revolution and in the early 1800’s it became a public cemetery to bury unknown or indigent people. It was designated a public park in 1871 but according to the book ‘The Power Broker’ it became neglected and “a haven for drunks and idlers”.
On this side of the Mississippi River, Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City was originally Pioneer Fort, what the Daughters of Utah Pioneers called “What Plymouth is to New England, the Old Fort is to the Great West”. It was the landing place of Mormons who arrived in 1847 and within a week they began building a fort with log cabins and adobe walls. After 1890 it was used as ap playground and in 1898 it was dedicated as Pioneer Park and ever since then locals have struggled as to what the use should be for the land. In the 1940’s some wanted to turn it into a larger area for a golf course then in the 1950’s plans were made to re-create the first school house and original cabins there. In the 1990’s The Deseret News reported that it’s location near the bus station, Rescue Mission, Salvation Army and shelters made the place a natural congregation for transients.
Since the main downtown shelter has been bulldozed, less transients are seen at the park. They have been ‘pushed’ to other places in the city by police and the Health Department. Having lived for 20 years a block away from the park, I sat on many committees as to what to do with the greenspace to make it more inviting. Now the City is once again hearing ideas that would make it more like what Bryant Park has become today-a fabulous mid-town gathering place for concerts and a sponsored Winter market that runs from October through March each year with almost 200 vendors. Salt Lake City staff and a group called ‘Design Workshop’ have requested $20mil to add pickleball courts, a café, water misting feature, bus stops, a basketball court, all age playground and fitness circuit and enhanced dog park. Bryant Park gathered massive financial support for the businesses surrounding it whereas Pioneer Park has support but not even 1/10th of funds from businesses to date and relies on the City to fund the changes. Everyone wants a better park if the City has the money, but lets not forget there are several other green spaces that need attention in this town with minority input.