Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Salt Lake City, on the grid

I love to travel not only for relaxation but also to casually observe how various societies have made a go at civilization in the modern city. I’ve also lately been reading more into the way city design plays into economic growth, so in future posts I’ll look at a few examples of what cities to promote and impede higher living standards. In the first of a series of Salt Lake City-specific posts, I wanted to say a few words about the layout of the city, the grid system of addresses, and other sundries.

First off, of course, Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 as Brigham Young and his persevering crew arrived here from points east. One of the first things they did was establish the temple block, which to this day is the heart of the city and probably the main attraction in terms of SLC-specific cultural and spiritual sites. Like other western cities of the time, such as Dodge City (1872) and Oklahoma City (1890), Salt Lake is on the grid system (apparently, originally designed by Joseph Smith; see figure). SLC is perhaps most known for it because of the Mormon-style exactitude with which is was carried out. This means that downtown and other parts of the valley are neatly blocked out, and the streets’ names are usually their address (100So, 3300So, 700E, etc.). At 600So (often just called 6th South) and need 1000So? Just head south, wary traveler. All of Salt Lake County is on the same grid. The temple site, being the heart, is the zero-point in terms of addresses go in SLC. The corner of Main Street and South Temple specifically is where you’re at 0 East, West, North, and South, whereas in other cities it would be at the capitol building or courthouse.

The blocks in Salt Lake are large, being roughly 8 to a mile (making each block a square furlong). Brigham Young was apparently one who loved to drive unfettered, as the city streets were made wide enough so a wagon team could turn around without resorting to profanity. It would have been nice if Young would have acted as a prophet when doing urban design (as he did in other matters), as the wide streets tend to make the city less walkable, less aesthetically appealing (thought it’s still gorgeous), hinder economic growth (cause the city’s less dense), and promote driving.

In terms of finding places in SLC, whichever number in the address is round (a la 700E, 4500So) will be the street and the precise number will be the house/business number (a la 5107So or 2146E). A further pleasant oddity is the fact that odd numbered addresses on streets going North/South are on the east side of the street (and evens are on the west); for addresses on streets going East/West, the odd numbers are on the north side with evens across to the south. Go explore and feel the exactitude.

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