Sunday, January 16, 2011

The air in Salt lake City

The picture here was taken at about 0945. It wasn’t rainy or foggy. I didn’t do any color adjustment. The gray sky that you see is air pollution.

It’s our dirty little secret, one we try to  keep from the rest of the world, that Salt Lake City often has terribly bad air pollution. It’s bad every season, but particularly awful in winter. We routinely fail by miles to meet federal air quality standards, and Los Angeles generally has much cleaner air than we do. TV shows that I have seen of Chinese cities do look like they have much worse air than we do, but that’s not saying much when you live here and experience what we experience. I had a coughing episode today at the Zen Center soon after I arrived after walking outside (and taking the pictures.) I had to leave the zendo, go get some water and cough up a bunch of gunk.

The weather people often announce that today is a red air quality day, and people are supposed to stay inside and not drive cars and such. That works brilliantly, of course. Who has the luxury of not going to work just because it’s a red air quality day?

Part of our problem is geography … the way we are a valley situated between two mountain ranges, both of which go north-south. We live in a kind of tunnel in between the two mountains. Air of all kinds gets trapped here.

But the fact that we are very car dependent, having sprawled out in all directions to form suburbs after suburbs after suburbs also has a lot to do with things. People simply have to drive cars from so many places where they like to live. And of course, people drive cars all the time when they don’t have to. How many people who live in the city center ACTUALLY walk, bike or take public transport for most or all of their everyday life? Very few, like most places in the US. How many people might like to use public transport more often but find the buses and things don’t go where the people want or need to go at the times the people want or need?

Public transportation IS improving. There are new TRAX lines opening up soon, and another under construction. In certain places bus service is all right … where I live for example. But I know we have terrible bus service compared to many other cities. But I think it’s going to take a huge crisis of some kind before the demand for public transportation will enable the powers that be to expand the service to where it is really needed to make a dent in improving our air quality.

And the Church is putting a lot of money right now into redeveloping downtown as a place to live. It’s going to take a lot of convincing though for people with families to actually think that central Salt Lake is a good place to raise children. People are still totally sold on the idea of the single family big house on the cul-de-sac with the big yard and the good school system and all the children’s activities.

I heard on the radio that our public health people are putting together a plan to make us meet EPA standards. But I wonder if that is all that it will be … a plan. Our politicians have no plans to introduce new legislation or regulation to help address the problem. Like many politicians, few are brave enough to do anything visionary, and almost nobody will go up against “business interests”. That is so vague, who knows what it means? Doesn’t matter. “Business interests” are against regulation to improve air quality, we are told, so that is that.

I need detachment from this, I guess.

Here is a link to a blog that I really like which happens to have some lovely photos of a gray city … Paris. But the author is writing about the buildings and pavements and other features of the lovely built environment of Paris, not the color of the air.

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