The Life of American Cities: October 6, 2014

My teenage boys recently went to a concert in Provo with some friends to see a band whose name I can’t remember, and if I tried to remember it would seem an attempt to betray my true age.  I was interested in their Instagram post following their outing, the initial one stating “Provo is cool.”  And the follow up:  “Provo is cool because we were there.”

It takes people to make a place.  I’m always a bit chafed when architecture is presented in a sterile photograph without people, a laboratory, a fake.  Sitting in Piazza della Rotonda in Rome just over a week ago photographing the Pantheon, it would have been unthinkable to photograph this masterpiece without the masses milling about.  The Pantheon is truly a pinnacle of art and engineering, the zenith of Roman architecture.  What makes it so interesting is that it has been in continuous use since 126 CE.  People of different cultures, nationalities, and eras have graced the Pantheon since its origination.  People, people, people.  Is the Pantheon a place because of the people that inhabit its graceful interiors, or sit on the steps of the Fontana in the warm Roman sun, or seek refuge under the powerful portico?  Or is it a place already? Is place a predetermining factor for population?  Is place somewhere that attracts the people to its essence, its beauty?  Would Piazza della Rotonda be the same if the Pantheon were a ruin, a bare foundation scarring the earth?

Now Rome is vastly different than Salt Lake.  There is a monumental building on every corner.  The whole city seems to be a place, full of places, each with its own distinct character.  What these places all have in common is that they are populated, constantly, day and night.  Rome is a dense, compact city.  Salt Lake is not and will likely never be.  But Salt Lake does have the makings of place.  Salt Lake has a street infrastructure with so much potential for complete streets that their nearly ubiquitous use by the automobile is maddening.  Where is Salt Lake’s essence?  Where are Salt Lake’s great places?  I’m looking for answers here.

There is a new place which is just being introduced to the city.  Formerly a freight corridor for the Denver and Rio Grande and Union Pacific Railroads, and later abandoned, the S-Line greenway is a multi-modal transportation corridor primarily dedicated to the new UTA Streetcar, but with a wide and substantial bikeway, a smaller pedestrian pathway, and paved plazas at each street intersection, all of which is sited in a breathtaking landscaped greenway native to the Utah environment.  This place is just beginning to attract people, but remains fairly quiet most days.  I rode my bike on the S-Line on Sunday and it was slightly disappointing to be the only one on it, though it may have facilitated my higher speeds over the posted 9 mph limit.   The connections on the east and west ends are a bit tenuous and with continued investment on the part of South Salt Lake and Salt Lake City, there should be better integration into the existing urban fabric, but right now it remains slightly isolated. 

This essay will remain slightly open ended but I ask you the reader to comment and identify the essence of Salt Lake, to name the great places of our city, or potential places that are lurking in the background, like that old abandoned freight corridor.   


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