Salt Lake City's efforts toward improving Pioneer Park deserve enthusiastic support. If successful, they could reverse years of decline on a square block filled with historical significance.

Last week, consultants hired by the city unveiled part of a strategic study for making the park a safe and inviting place. The rest of the study, which also includes improvements to the surrounding area, will be released in January. But enough has been shown to demonstrate that the plans are worthy of consideration.Among other things, they call for the city to build a small stage for performances, add sand volleyball courts and expand the playgrounds. Sidewalks would be widened, allowing farmers and vendors to bring in vehicles for farmers' markets.

Perhaps with these improvements the park once again could belong to families and decent people, rather than to drug dealers and prostitutes. In recent years, Pioneer Park has degenerated into the city's most notorious square block, where crimes often were committed with impunity in broad daylight.

That's hardly a worthy role for the spot that housed the valley's first pioneer settlers. In 1847, it was the site of a fort erected to protect the pioneers while the city was under construction.

Through the years, many city leaders have talked of restoring the fort or of making other improvements. Unfortunately, the city took no action, other than to concentrate all indigent service providers in the area. While those providers give valuable service, their concentration in one area has acted as a magnet for criminals.

Coincidentally, the apartment complex across the street went bankrupt halfway through construction. Its plywood exterior has stood for nearly a decade, adding to the area's rundown image. Other nearby business has been allowed to decay as property values declined.

It's been a long losing streak for the park and its neighborhood, but the trend seems to be reversing itself now. Last spring, after four homicides there in four days, the city decided to step up police patrols in the park. Meanwhile, renovation projects were started in nearby buildings, and work finally was restarted on the half-finished apartments. Now, the strategic study shows the city is at least interested in helping the area succeed.

Critics say the city won't solve crime problems by improving the park. Instead, those problems will be pushed into other areas.

Perhaps they are right, but with that kind of attitude, no public improvements ever would take place. In any case, Pioneer Park is far too important to be relegated to a criminal hangout.

Whether the strategic study is the answer to the park's problems remains to be seen. Most likely, the park's eventual success will result from a variety of factors.

Many city residents would be contented just to be able to walk safely through the park and contemplate its history. While that goal may seem a long way off, the seeds of change have been planted.

And an investment from City Hall would help the process along.