Mountains

Landscaping medians

Vernal, Utah ó an oil town in the middle of a drab (although geologically and paleontologically fascinating) desert ó has a decorating theme. From one end of Main Street to the other, from May through the killing frosts of October, more than 1,500 planters and hanging baskets overflow with petunias in varying shades of pink and white.

The result is a colorful and unified focus that suggests Vernal is a prosperous place where people care about their community.

Vernal is hardly the only town with a beautification program, but itís one thatís similar to Cortez in size and climate. As the city government investigates beautifying medians at key entrances to the city, itís worth investigating what other communities are doing.

The expense of landscaping (or attractive signage or public art or any of a number of other image-related projects) can be difficult to justify because the benefits are hard to calculate.

Those benefits do exist, though, and they shouldnít be undervalued. The image of a community where people care enough to keep the flowers watered, the grass cut and the lights on is invaluable, because it draws people into participation. ďI want to be a part of that,Ē they say, and they add to the picture.

Thereís much more to creating an attractive community than planting greenery and flowers where cracked colored concrete currently sits. Tending median plantings is a dangerous job ó especially at the bizarrely designed intersection at the west end of Main Street. Landscaping cannot interfere with visibility and navigability. Itís hard to find plants that flourish on small islands in a sea of hot pavement and vehicle exhaust. No cost is inconsequential.

And beautiful gateways and byways are promises that must be fulfilled by all of the property between and along them. In Cortez, that includes highway businesses, downtown, the outlying business corridors, transitional districts, residential areas, mobile home parks and vacant lots. The current plantings downtown are attractive, as far as they go ó which isnít very far.

Flowers, even in full and glorious bloom, can only go so far in countering the impression given by derelict buildings, neglected billboards and trash-filled ditches. All of that needs to be addressed.

The city needs a well-designed beautification plan, not a few plants here and there. Maybe thereís a better plan, a better place to start.

But prettier medians and a commitment to maintain them are good first steps toward improving the visual reputation of Cortez. Thatís a solid investment. Civic groups and school classes could take part ó safely, of course. Those who remember when the fountain on West Main ran water (and occasional soapsuds), when the Christmas tree there was beautifully decorated and ceremonially lit for the first time each season ó when Cortez took more pride in its appearance ó also remember the benefits.

Looks arenít everything, but they can do considerable harm. Cortez is a more happening place than a quick glance (let alone a careful examination) would suggest. This is a good place to live and work; thereís no reason it should look like a dusty, sleepy town.

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