This question: "What is the fundamental unit of society?" seems rhetorical, especially when asked to members of the church who dominate Provo/BYU community.

It echoes the answer given by President Gordon B. Hinckley in General Conference of 1995 in "The Family: A Proclamation To The World."

And yet the family unit is under attack right here in Provo. In the last two decades since this prophetic proclamation, the Wasatch Neighborhood (aka "The Tree Streets") has been under relentless pressure to "zone-away" families from this prime piece of real estate. Provo City Zoning Ordinances have become lax to investor pressures by allowing dozens of traditional family homes to convert into duplexes, apartments, even 6-plexes that are now filled with single students. Parents and children have been in decline ever since.

Lately the single most important, most expensive, and most controversial issue Provo City has ever faced and will ever face is the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit system (or BRT). Utah Transit Authority, Provo City Mayor, and a minority of the City Council favor a proposal that routes the BRT system with its high-capacity, accordion-style, fast-buses, directly in front of Wasatch Elementary School and the 750 traditional families who live east of 9th East.

The Tree Street homes in Wasatch and Oak Hills have a long legacy of raising families with many children. My wife and I are raising the 4th generation of our family in this very special place. It is one of the final family enclaves in close proximity to BYU. This neighborhood has always been a desirable destination for hundreds of BYU employees to raise their children within walking/cycling distance to work. And, over the generations we have been somewhat successful at resisting pressure to alter our family legacy by rezoning it.

But the recent proposal of routing BRT up 9th East is by far the single most powerful attempt yet to uproot traditional families from their homes. It is inevitable that current single-family zoning laws will fold to the imminent pressures for high-density housing, commercialization, and urbanization of this neighborhood if the $150 million UTA expansion is approved. Half of this money comes from local taxes and the other half comes from the Federal Government.

Generally speaking public transportation is made viable by "individual" ridership ... people like students, commuters, etc. The "individual" rider is the crucial social ingredient for any public transportation system to work. After all, it seems illogical that UTA would be building a "rapid" transportation system for moving parents and their children to/from soccer games, birthday parties, and family date nights. It is equally inconceivable that a mom would hop onto a "rapid bus" to go grocery shopping at Costco with her 4 children in tow, and return home with all her loot and children via the bus or train, or a dad to take his wife and five children out to eat at a family restaurant via "rapid transit".

Indeed public transportation is built for and most often utilized by individual riders. Even though it is not uncommon to observe empty bus after empty bus along the streets of Provo, it is even greater folly to claim that families need and will use even bigger more frequent buses. It is unarguable that if BRT is forced up 9th East instead of attempting better routes (like University Avenue), it will single-handedly do more to "zone-way" families than anything else. I feel that when Provo City makes choices that affect zoning laws, those choices should clearly encourage parents to raise their children here as they have done for so many generations.

On the contrary, authorities from BYU, UTA, and the mayor's office have often ignored the pleadings of these deeply-rooted families in the Tree Streets, all in the name of "growth" and the need to "swiftly" take advantage of a federal hand-out. This betrayal of family is a steep price to pay for society.

So the question again is this: "Are families the fundamental unit of society in Provo City?" And if not, perhaps we should also ask a follow-up question: "What impression do we give the thousands of students, athletes and missionaries, who 'come here to learn and go forth to serve?' " Do they observe Provo City upholding the family, or not? Is Provo City living up to the prophetic mandate?

"We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society. We commend to all a careful, thoughtful, and prayerful reading of this proclamation. The strength of any nation [or city] is rooted within the walls of its homes. We urge our people everywhere to strengthen their families in conformity with these time-honored values." -- Hinckley, October 1995

The student-vibe of Provo will always ebb and flow with the ceremonies of orientation and graduation. But the foundation of the family unit in Provo must abide! Society owes their greatest support to parents who raise children, above all else. That's the message we receive from God and that is what Provo must remember when considering viable options for BRT.

Christian Nielson lives in Provo.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!