Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Whose street?

"Main Street," according to Wikipedia, is a figure of speech indicating the retail and social center of neighborhood, village or city.  In the American collective imagination, Main Street belongs to the city and its people.  In older times, it's where the teens met at the malt shop and the farmers talked about corn prices.  More recently, it's where Starbucks is or isn't, depending on your town's social status.  What's important is its openness as the market center of a larger unit. In that vein,  Salt Lake City has an interesting counter story.  Several years ago, the city sold a block of Main Street to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a church which is very powerful in the city and in the state of Utah.  The block has become a private park, governed by the Church.  Suddenly the collective thoroughfare is interrupted, and new way of organizing behavior inserted.  This manifestation of the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ is uplifting to members but an imposition to non-members who often feel oppressed by the Church's political power.  When are we entitled to access to that which flows?  To take another example, in a recent decision, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that wealthy landowners could not bar their fellows from the trout-rich stream that ran through their lands.  One of the landowners, Kenneth F. Siebel, was very upset.  He was quoted in the NY Times as saying, "I've put time and energy and love into the property and it's all gone and it's a shame."  Obviously the property was still there, and still in the improved condition to which he had brought it.  What made it seem "all gone" if strangers could visit?  And what about flow in cities -- should we protect the flow of Main Street the way we protect trout streams?

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