The plan for a pedestrian-friendly downtown Salt Lake City.
Could it be that
local issues are the new Denny's, that everywhere there's a kind of civic sameness? Or is one of the benefits of travel the sense that many places you visit feel like a trip into alternative multiverses of roads taken and not taken? Or is it all a matter of projection? Here's what I gleaned from dipping into The Salt Lake Tribune
the other day.
The city is in the middle of a sports arena controversy
. The arena in question isn't for basketball, though Salt Lake is possessed with "Jazz fever," an unlikely sounding affliction in the land of the Mormons. There also seems to be left over enthusiasm for Major League Soccer. The arena in question, planned for suburban Sandy, Utah, is for the region's pro soccer franchise, Real Salt Lake
. The debate features the usual suspects: public funding, state-backed bonds, taxes, parking, questions about the franchise's financial viability, all leveraged by the team's threat to move. In this case, the project seems to be making progress with a state plan and a unanimous vote to site the facility, backed by economic development folks throwing their weight around. The project also includes promised funding for a youth soccer academy – a brilliant idea because proponents can claim "it's for the kids."
The headline "Council overrides sky bridge veto
" also caught my eye. Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson was dealt a setback when the City Council endorsed a sky bridge for a massive new LDS Church-backed $1 billion City Creek Center mall project downtown near Temple Square. According to the Tribune
, Anderson was furious with the sky bridge plan, which he sees as doing nothing to create walkable downtown streets. "No wonder we don't have a walkable community," he scolded before bolting the council meeting after seeing his veto overridden by a 6-1 vote. "There is nobody in the planning community anywhere in this country that will support a sky bridge under these circumstances."
The irony is that the project is supposed to help turn downtown Salt Lake into a more pedestrian-friendly "24/7" community by featuring several hundred residential units along with all the new retail. (Hint to Salt Lake City: If you want more street life, loosen those liquor laws!)
Sky bridges are sometimes> anathema in Seattle, except when they aren't (as when, say, the Washington State Convention and Trade Center downtown wanted one). Anderson's lone supporter on the council was an architect, Soren Simonsen, who guaranteed the retro, view-corridor-blocking sky bridge would be torn down within 30 years. He previously said that the sky bridge threatened the "life and vitality of downtown." Simonsen attempted to conduct a presentation showcasing good architecture in cities including Seattle, but he was shut down. In language echoing the Alaskan Way Viaduct controversy, one sky bridge critic asked if sky bridges were such a great idea, why were they being "torn down across the county?"
Some critics were upset that the city was caving in to the LDS Church, which seems only slightly less powerful than the Mayor Greg Nickels machine.
The most interesting story
was a front-pager about a new biofuels pilot project
by Utah State University and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). Highway departments use a lot of diesel in everything from running road building and maintenance equipment to, in Washington, running ferry boats. (Our state ferries are diesel hogs, but a plan to have them burn some bodiesel is apparently stalled
for technical reasons.) But the Utah project looks interesting because the plan, if successful, could convert some 2,500 miles of highway right-of-way by planting roadside swaths with canola, flax, safflower, and other biofuel crops. The state estimates it could harvest these crops and eventually produce up to 500,000 gallons of biodiesel, which it would use to run its own equipment. It would also save mowing costs. This plan could be adapted along highways throughout the Northwest.
The biofuels bandwagon is rolling big-time, though not without controversy. It's renewable, cleaner, better global-warming-wise, helps break the addiction to oil, and promises a boost to distressed rural economies. UDOT's idea could turn highway greenbelts into cash crops and perhaps even save taxpayers money. It also has the rare virtue of being something red and blue staters can agree on.
Oh, and did I mention? "It's for the kids."