On Wednesday, graduate students from the University of Utah’s urban and metropolitan planning department pose in front of a map of the West Side community. The map is part of a collaboration between Neighborworks Salt Lake and the University of Utah. (Ashley Fredde, KSL.com)
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SALT LAKE CITY – Mestizo Coffeehouse is more than “just four walls and a cafe” to the western neighborhood it serves, say its owners.
The café, founded by local artists Terry Hurst and Ruby Chacón, was created to be a space for art sharing and an opportunity for civic engagement. The vision for a café art gallery was shared by the nonprofit organization NeighborWorks Salt Lake, which focuses on building stronger neighborhoods.
Through the collaboration, Mestizo Coffeehouse opened in the central courtyard of the Citifront apartment complex, becoming the first true cafe on the west side.
The cafe faced many challenges soon after opening, including the 2008 recession and a construction project that impacted community access to the building. “A lot of people lost their homes, their jobs – cafes weren’t thriving around the same time,” said David Galvan, co-owner of Mestizo.
But this café had become rooted in the community. Determined that the cafe would stick, Hurst traveled to Washington where he couch surfed and appeared on local radio shows to lobby for donations.
“He’s mad, but how can you not support a madman with that kind of conviction?” Galvan asked.
Mestizo weathered the storm and was the backdrop for many local rallies and organizations. The cafe has hosted political campaigns, festival meetings, Dreamers, Occupy Utah, the YWCA’s Violence Against Women project, League of Women Voters, Wild Utah, and Black Lives Matter, among others.
Most recently, the cafe hosted a community survey conducted by NeighborWorks Salt Lake and the University of Utah’s Urban and Metropolitan Planning Department. It’s called the West Side Tesoros Project – tesoros meaning treasures in Italian – and is a collaboration between the two entities to document significant areas on the West Side.
While the back room has been revamped and remodeled in many ways, last week it looked very much like a war room with rearranged tables and a large map in the background. University professor Caitlin Cahill took a close look at the west side map and pointed to the labels pinned to it. Each pin and tag represents an important place for the West Side community, a place of preservation.
Cahill made for an unusual general and said she considered herself more of a geographer than anything else, as she worked to document “the places where people feel safe, where they feel where their culture reflects a sense of belonging that reflects their community values - in the context of the housing crisis and displacement that is occurring in the western part of Salt Lake City,” she explained.
Displacement and gentrification have become growing concerns amid Salt Lake City’s affordable housing crisis. The threat of displacement for residents on the west side of Salt Lake City has increased, according to the Thriving in Place study, commissioned by the Salt Lake City Council to better understand gentrification and displacement issues across the city.
The study revealed:
- The displacement affects more than half of white households in Salt Lake City and disproportionately affects households of color.
- Patterns of displacement reflect historical patterns of discrimination and segregation, with areas at high risk of displacement closely aligning with areas that have been demarcated in the past.
- There are no “more affordable” neighborhoods in Salt Lake City where low-income families can move to once displaced.
“Thinking also of diversity in terms of racial ethnic diversity, and also class diversity on the west side, we don’t want to continue in this way that segregation has happened, and also address the concerns that we hear people concerned about safety issues, concerned about affordability,” Cahill said.
Longtime residents of Salt Lake City’s west side have been forced to relocate or merge households to stay in the same neighborhood. Community assets like grocery stores and restaurants have closed or moved. Places loved by the community and linked to its character are slowly disappearing, along with many residents.
“The Taqueria El Rey de Oros, which used to be on the west side right across from Chavez – and it’s a place that’s been generationally run for a long time – ended up moving out of the west side,” Jasmine explained. Walton, director of community initiatives at NeighborWorks. “I think it’s just places like this that we want to make sure are preserved. … It’s been a staple in the community for a very long time, but not here anymore so we can all continue to to profit from.”
The “treasure map” is intended to recognize places of significance and character, documenting the place itself and perhaps why it is no longer there. The physical map will be kept and a digital map will be available following the survey. The groups also hope to create brochures documenting these cherished areas.
“This map here is just us mapping where these places are, so we can see in a tangible way that it’s like a place that has become so special with someone and creates community integrity. that surrounds it. Like it can be as simple as someone’s first apartment, where someone had their first kiss,” said Parvis Faiz, a student at U. “Those little cases where people meet, where community is created.”