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But if social relations are evolving slowly, urbanization is happening in a hurry. Some 1.7 million people now live on the Wasatch Front, an almost uninterrupted suburban strip along the I-15 highway from Ogden through Salt Lake down to Provo. The entire valley often has a blanket of brown air hanging over it, the legacy of years of unchecked growth. Now the consensus on unlimited growth is being challenged--from within the state.
When Stephen Goldsmith was 17, he won a high school oratory contest with a speech on "Why I want to be a black transsexual." It was an act of defiance. Goldsmith, who is Jewish, remembers being roughed up almost every week on the way home from school in Salt Lake City when his classmates would turn off to go to the nearby Mormon church and he would continue on straight to go home. Goldsmith, now 47, is the city planner for Salt Lake City, hired by the controversial new mayor, Rocky Anderson, to revitalize the downtown area, block strip-mall developments and open up bike trails and green spaces in the city. But his agenda is broader than that. "We are working on cultural change in a big way," says Goldsmith, a sculptor and former activist who developed affordable housing for Salt Lake's less privileged population before the mayor recruited him to his new job. "Our motto for the Olympics is 'Strength Through Diversity.' Diversity brings vitality." Goldsmith knows that much of what he is proposing to change in the city is controversial--and he relishes it.
His boss, Anderson, was elected with 62% of the vote against a Mormon opponent in 1999, and Utahans have been rubbing their eyes ever since. Anderson has a yellow-naped Amazonian parrot in his office whose screeches and wolf whistles echo down the corridor of the City County building; Anderson's politics are no less jarring. Now 50 and twice divorced, he left the Mormon church at 18 over "theological issues." He was a trial lawyer for 21 years, including a stint at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Anderson's liberal policies are causing screeches in the conservative state legislature. He champions the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions, anathema to conservatives. He blocked plans for a megamall on the outskirts of the city, tirelessly campaigns for enlarging the mass-transit network and has put out hundreds of red flags at street crossings for pedestrians to carry, making them easier to spot by drivers. He was outspoken in the fight--which he won--to have beer served at Olympic events.
If Anderson's main battle is with the conservative Republican establishment of the state, he has not missed the calls for greater tolerance from the leadership of the Mormon church. "This is a very important transitional time," he says. "Now we need the same opening from the other side--those in the minority can exercise the same kind of bigotry as they have complained about suffering themselves."
In the end, the plot comes back to the Mormon church. It is impossible to know what kind of debates are going on inside the church, and whether Hinckley's drive for greater openness will be maintained by the next president.
"There is a strong sense in Utah of the inside [the Mormon faith] and the outside," says the writer Tempest Williams.