Salt Lake City is not what you think it might be
I used to say that DC is unique in that the entire world defines the city in terms of its role as the National Capital of the United States, so culturally everything must be about the Federal Government, the National Story and Mythology, etc.
That doesn't leave a lot of space and room for local Washington to be and to show and to do in a complementary and also independent fashion.
But Salt Lake City, the global capital of the Mormon Church, has the same problem. If you haven't been there, you figure everything about the city must be tied into the Morman Church, which is conservative and also wealthy and very powerful.
As I discovered the first time I came here in March 2012, Salt Lake City is not just the Mormon Church. It's a kind of capital of the Intermountain Region of the U.S., so people who want to leave their smaller cities like Boise or Billings and other places decamp to SLC.
With universities and an incredible outdoor experience, many others are drawn to the city as well.
The Mormon complex--Temple Square--is a key foundation of the City and a major component of the city's success.
For example, the only reason that the City Creek complex was built at the cost of a couple billion dollars was because of the financing of the Mormon Church, but in turn they invested in that location because it is across from Temple Square and they didn't want that part of Downtown to decline in the face of new investment elsewhere in the city and region.
But as the flying of the Gay Pride flag IN FRONT OF CITY HALL shows, cities have the power to redefine themselves, no matter what the rest of the world says or believes.
The flag is a really big deal. In terms of what it says about a community, it's one of the most powerful statements I've ever seen by a local government.
The only other thing I can think of that is similarly powerful is the public art program of Tri-Met, the transit authority in Portland, Oregon. When they built the Yellow Line light rail, they committed to including public art at each station that was relevant to the area and it's history.
The reason that is so powerful is because that area has some incredibly troubling history. One area experienced a flood that killed many and displaced thousands of African-Americans who had come to the area to work in a steel plant during wartime. They incorporated molds of found objects and this story into the art at the station serving that location.
Similarly, the Exposition Station serves the Expo Center, but that site was an internment camp sorting center for Japanese-American internment during World War Two. The public art calls attention to that history. In the piers for the gates, virulently racist headlines from the local newspapers of the time are reprinted as part of the reproduction of their front pages.
Valerie Otani addresses the theme of Japanese relocation during World War II at the site of the 1942 Portland Assembly Center. Traditional Japanese timber gates strung with metal "internee ID tags" mark station entrances. Vintage news articles are etched in steel and wrapped around the gate legs. (The artist spoke to us on our tour. And the headlines of the newspapers included in the work were vicious and racist. )