Breaking Up Big Blocks in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City’s SixtyNine Seventy project is the latest in a long line of efforts trying to answer the question: what do we do with these enormous blocks?

The Second Century Plan. From

Pretty much every major plan for Salt Lake since its initial founding, including the Second Century Plan above, has been about breaking the blocks up into smaller, more manageable chunks. The 660 feet square blocks are the result of generations of Mormon city planning, and there are a number of ways they could be updated. I’ll discuss one idea I stumbled upon.

Salt Lake’s big blocks are based on Joseph Smith’s Plat of Zion, which also had 660 square foot blocks. Despite its intention as a guide for the development of future cities, Smith himself didn’t feel tied to the dimensions of the plan, and diverged from it both in the plat of Far West and in the most significant urban development he undertook at Nauvoo, Illinois. These large blocks were actually realized in Salt Lake and some of the other early Mormon settlements in Utah, led by Brigham Young. However, after the first generation of Utah settlements, the pioneers realized these blocks were too big, and later Mormon towns all have smaller blocks.


You can do a lot with 660 square feet. For comparison, I combed through cities with similar climates to Salt Lake, since climate can and should be a significant factor in urban design. Compare these:

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I was thinking about how to densify these networks while still relating to the original network. Salt Lake’s blocks are large enough that you could straight up divide them into four and still have a reasonably sized block. But while I was playing around, I experimented with connecting blocks diagonally.Nest 3-01

This nesting of a smaller block diagonally within a larger one allows the nested area to relate to the original grid while making blocks smaller. It maintains connectivity while creating smaller, more walkable blocks, and discouraging high-speed through traffic.

Taken to the extreme, you can nest numerous grids within each other, like Russian dolls. This can allow you to gradually transition from a large rural grid, such as the US Township and Range system, to a small walkable grid, with blocks as short as 200-300 feet.

Nest 2-01At more complex levels, smaller town grids could be nested within a larger regional grid that is nested within a national grid. This is one way to transition a large-block area to smaller blocks while continuing the grid and giving a new district a distinct character.


About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

One Response to Breaking Up Big Blocks in Salt Lake City

  1. David K says:


    I’m working on a short film about urbanism and rethinking what to do with the big blocks in Salt Lake City. I met with Nan Ellin today and she referred me to this post. In the film I was hoping to meet with some architects and planners as well as other people who are thinking about this and have them share a few ideas and perhaps show some sketches or diagrams. I really like the graphics on this post and I’d love to involve you if you’re interested. I am in Salt Lake but it just so happens I will be visiting family in Philadelphia for the holidays and I could meet up and film something real quick while I’m there… That is if you’re interested. Let me know. And thank you.

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