Spotlight on City Creek, Salt Lake City, Utah

City Creek is a recently completed, Mormon Church-funded development in the center of Salt Lake City. In some ways, it does a great job of bringing a facelift to parts of downtown Salt Lake City. In others, it really just feels like a big mall.

Uncharacteristically, I drove to City Creek, and my first experience with the development was the parking. The development has no surface parking; there are three levels of parking located directly under the three block development. In some locations the parking is accessed in the very center of the street. This actually does a great job of narrowing and calming Salt Lake’s infamously wide streets, and creates mid-block crossings on the long blocks of this city.

Part of what I thought was really interesting was how some parts of the development, especially along the outer edge, have not changed. Street improvements at West Temple and 100 South that predated the development are still there. A number of pre-existing buildings on Main Street are still there, and integrate fairly seamlessly with new construction. ZCMI, which was bought out by Macy’s a few years ago, has a great old building which has been lovingly restored and has a great street frontage.

Although there is plenty of parking, City Creek is very transit accessible. Salt Lake’s TRAX line comes north along Main Street and turns west along North Temple Street, with two stations adjacent to City Creek.

There have been significant improvements to the public realm. A small park has been installed at State Street and 100 South. Salt Lake’s wide streets give them the flexibility to create very wide sidewalks, and improvements range from simple trees and lights to significant seating areas with unique and beautiful seats, tables, and planters.

An interesting effect of the new development has been tangential street activity. I saw a handful of new food trucks in the area. On the other hand, there were more homeless people in the area than I was used to seeing in Salt Lake.

City Creek seems to have two sides: a street side, which has a real downtown major city feel; and an inner side, which despite a mix of uses really just feels like a mall. Between these areas are a series of transitional public spaces. These feature entrance markers that cleverly conceal ventilation for the underground parking and speakers that blast pop music, adding to the mall feel. The creek that the development is named for snakes throughout the area, with dramatic naturalistic features including rock outcroppings and native plants. Many of these areas feature fountains and sculptures, including my hated seagulls. There are many high-quality seating areas throughout.

What sort of puzzles me is that City Creek is not a single-use shopping area like a suburban mall; it features office uses and a whole lot of residential, including two new major residential towers. The central parts of two of the three blocks have nice squares built around public water features. But despite these features, it doesn’t feel like a mixed-use neighborhood; it feels like a mall.My favorite feature was a small corner of the development along Regent Street. As the street enters the development, it curves to the east and uphill, and becomes a shared use, curbless street, where bollards protect people from cars and lights cris-cross the right-of-way. The street is cozy, visually interesting, and generally very delightful.

City Creek is sort of two-faced: it does successfully contribute to a high-quality streetscape along the public rights-of-way of Salt Lake City, even calming traffic and activating pedestrian life; yet much of the development, especially on the block interiors, feels like just another mall. I had mixed feelings about it, but it could certainly be worse. And I thought it was funny that, despite the effort to make this a metropolitan development, things about it are still very Mormon:SIDENOTE: As I write this, the eye of Superstorm Sandy is passing near Philadelphia. I feel awful that I am here in Arizona while my friends, and especially my wife, are facing this storm back east. I just want to say to all my East Coast friends, family and readers, stay safe, and I look forward to rejoining you soon.


Where are you from?

This is one of the first things someone asks when you meet new people, and for me, it’s always been sort of hard to answer. For instance, if I’m traveling, I’ll usually say Philadelphia, since that’s where I live, but it’s not where I grew up and I don’t identify strongly with the city. Usually I either tell people I’m from Pittsburgh, where my parents currently live and where I graduated from high school, or that I grew up in Pittsburgh and western Massachusetts, since I spent six years of my childhood in each place. I usually gloss over the fact that I have also lived in California, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon, because I didn’t live in those places as long and they didn’t have as much of an impact on me, but they are still part of the equation.

But what if I go further back, and think more broadly? I was born in the Bay Area, so sometimes I say I’m a native Californian (this is mostly when I’m comparing myself to my wife, who lived her whole life in California except for her first two weeks, when her family lived in Spokane, so she isn’t a native Californian, like I am). My parents grew up California and Nevada, and their parents in California, Washington, Nevada, and Utah, so I could say I’m from the West or the West Coast. But how did my family get to the West Coast?

This, combined with an on-again-off-again interest in genealogy, led me to map the last ten generations of my family.

Click to enlarge.

My family came to America in two large groups, what I could call Mormon and pre-Mormon. My Mormon ancestors converted to the church in their home countries of England, Denmark, and Norway, and then emigrated to Utah, some of them later spilling out into California. The pre-Mormons came from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Denmark, and Germany, and settled up and down to east coast of the US and Canada, some of them later converting to Mormonism and heading to Utah, with others coming west for new employment, such as mining and ship building.

So that’s the larger, geographic explanation of where I’m from: mostly Scandinavia and the British Isles, where my ancestors came from seeking economic opportunity and religious freedom, eventually settling in the western United States, where I was born and from whence I returned to the East Coast. But geography isn’t the only part of where a person is from; geographically, I’ve lived all over the US, but I consider myself a Pittsburgher because I love the Steelers and Polish food, and a New Englander because of my left leaning politics and the fact that my family has, in the past, made our own maple syrup. So what were the places where my ancestors lived like? I decided to leave out the places where my ancestors moved to or from (the lines on the above map), and focus on the places where they lived for at least one generation (the circles).

Click to enlarge.

Originally I thought that I would spotlight each of the places, but excluding counties there are 32 of them, and that would get tedious, so I’m going to include an image gallery so you can get an idea of what they look like and identify some trends.

Most of the places my ancestors lived in were small towns, villages and hamlets. Only four (Copenhagen, Glasgow, Baltimore and London) are metropolitan centers, and I would only add Walsall and New Haven to to that to make a list of cities. The rest are too small. This makes sense, considering that it is only fairly recently that our world has had more than half of its people living in cities.

Along with being small, most of the places my ancestors lived were very rural. The graph above divides the places based on my matrix of settlement types, showing that they are mostly rural villages. What I think is interesting though is that there are very few suburban places; only Ballerup and Middletown fit this description. Ballerup is a historical town that has been sucked into Copenhagen’s sphere of influence, and Middletown is on the edge of the New York metropolitan area. I wonder how different they might have been when my ancestors lived there. It’s important to note that the suburb as we experience it today, with separated uses, cul-de-sacs, car dependency, and dependency on a larger nearby city, is very much a modern phenomenon, something our ancestors were unfamiliar with. Note: while some might call Walsall a suburb of Birmingham, it features mixed uses and a connected street grid, which give it a more urban character; I would call it a city that is part of the Birmingham metropolis.

I really enjoyed learning more about my ancestors and the places they lived. Check out the gallery below to see more of what these places look like.

City living will feel like a blast from the past –

Andres Duany. And a dog. From

Andres Duany is the granddaddy of New Urbanism. His design of Seaside, along with his wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, changed the course of greenfield development in this country. Rick Hampson of USA Today sat with him to ask him about what will happen to cities and suburbs in the next 30 years. He brought up five main points:

  1. Urban retrofit for suburbia – Suburbs will be rebuilt to serve alternative transit modes. Homes will be smaller and there will be more connected units.
  2. Gardener on the roof – People will practice “agrarian urbanism,” where they grow more of their own food on rooftops, in yards, or in window boxes.
  3. Government goes hyper-local – land use conflicts between developers trying to densify the city and make it more mixed use will push up against NIMBYs and certain environmental groups, and local government will have a large hand in mediating these issues.
  4. Buildings that look cool and safe – Duany gives the example of Alys Beach, a community he designed, where the houses are designed to be cooler and resistant to hurricanes and other extreme conditions. He argues that this sort of sustainable, durable design will be more common.
  5. Mormon settlers as models – As a Mormon, I found this particularly interesting (in fact, this is why a friend sent me the article), but Duany points out that, in the first 50 years of settlement in Utah and other parts of the west, Mormons built 537 towns, most of them located where they are after studying things like access to water and soil quality. This “precision planning” will be more important in the future.

My two cents: “The Book of Mormon” musical

There has been a lot of talk, for and against, about Trey Parker and Matt Stone‘s Broadway musical, “The Book of Mormon.” I’ll start off by saying that I haven’t seen it, so a lot of what I say about the musical is hearsay. That being said, I have a lot more to say about how it has been covered than the musical itself.

Yes, Parker and Stone’s musical is irreverent, offensive and disrespectful. The thing is, that is Parker and Stone’s shtick; it’s what they do. You’ve got to give it to them, the creators of South Park are equal opportunity insulters. Although they are disrespectful to Mormons, I don’t feel that they are any more or less disrespectful than they are to Muslims, Catholics, Africans, Hispanics, women, homosexuals, the disabled or anyone else in particular. You can’t expect much more from the inventors of Mr. Hankey.

But I don’t have the same low expectations for the supposedly objective news media reporting on the musical. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that some reviewers have done better than others. As a social democrat, I feel very odd supporting the Wall Street Journal, but I don’t feel that their review overstepped the bounds of the show’s context to comment on Mormonism itself. But Maureen Dowd of the New York Times uses her review of the show as a chance to make a personal commentary on some of my beliefs.

Her first affront to facts is that “Mormons can’t have caffeine.” I really get tired of explaining this one. I appreciate the person who, in the comments section, said, “The Coke Zero I purchased at a Mormon church-managed restaurant on Temple Square in Salt Lake City last month was missing a lot of things, but caffeine wasn’t one of them.” The Mormon doctrine on health is found primarily in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, section 89, one verse (9) of which reads, “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” Joseph Smith later clarified that by hot drinks God was referring to tea and coffee. Caffeine, though many members choose not to partake of it, is not expressly prohibited, only when it takes the form of tea and coffee. As an avid Dr. Pepper drinker, I occasionally have to explain to people the facts of this doctrine, and I think that Dowd’s comment will only add to the confusion.

Mormons from Liberia in front of the Accra, Ghana temple. From

Dowd said that “In 1978, beset by protests, the president of the Mormons announced that God had changed his mind about black people [being able to participate in temple ordinances or for black men to hold the priesthood].” I think that many modern Mormons would agree that we are somewhat embarrassed that, yes, that date is correct. As to why black people were ever barred from full participation in the Mormon faith, I have no idea, and I won’t try to apologize for that. Also, I don’t know if these are Parker and Stone’s words or Dowd’s, but either way, they demean the process of prophetic revelation that is unique to Mormonism. I am not entirely sure why 1978 was the year that this practice was changed, but I don’t believe that “God…changed his mind about black people.” I believe that, sometimes, God doesn’t give certain recommendations until you ask the right questions. My thought is that maybe no one until President Spencer W. Kimball had asked God if it was appropriate to extend full blessings to people of African descent. That in itself may be embarrassing, but the truth is, God is not in error and did not flip-flop on the issue, it was the imperfection of man that allowed this sort of discrimination to last in the church as long as it did, and that we have since amended this practice.

As far as Kolob goes, you can read everything that mentions Kolob in Abraham 3 (part of a book of Mormon scripture called the Pearl of Great Price), and if you can make sense of it, congratulations, you are a better Mormon than me. As far as I can understand, Kolob is a star this is near to where God lives. I don’t entirely understand why this matters, and it is not exactly a key doctrine to Mormonism.

Dowd’s paragraph, “The authoritarian Mormon church still does not have equal status for women, blacks and certainly not gays. It provided the majority of the funding for California’s Prop 8 against same-sex marriage,” is what prompted me to write this post. First of all, I don’t feel that “authoritarian” is a reasonable label for Mormonism. Yes, we have a whole lot of rules, but the specifics of those rules, and even whether they are to be followed, are entirely up to the individual. There are very few consequences that the church imposes on people, except in the case of what we view as particularly grievous sins, such as murder and sexual sin. Generally, punishment for sin is administered by God, not by the church. As far as equal status for women, I assume that this is in reference to the fact that women cannot hold the priesthood in the church. Though this is the case, there is an organization in the church (the Relief Society) which is entirely headed by women. Women hold significant positions in the church as teachers, leaders, and organizers. I wouldn’t call the role of women in the Mormon church less than that of men; I would just call it different. If you really want to know, ask my wife.

As far as equal status for black people, as I have covered above, we’ve had a checkered past, but I can’t think of anything in the modern church that doesn’t give people of African descent the same access as anyone else.

As for gays, Mormons don’t have a doctrine as to whether or not people can be born with an attraction to someone of the same sex (my personal belief is that they can); however, acting on those urges, whether natural or fabricated, is against the tenets of the faith. While this is generally seen as an arcane view, especially among my fellow liberals, like it or not, it is a standard of the church that has been reaffirmed by modern revelation. As far as Prop 8, I have often wondered why the church put so much effort into California legislation when they put so little into legislation in Massachusetts, Iowa, Arizona, Hawaii, or any other state that has voted on similar legislation. Although I think we are approaching the question from the entirely wrong angle (I agree with the authors of Nudge and think that marriage should be privatized), you have to understand that the prophet of the church does not direct members to act unless God directs him to, otherwise he will be removed from his office as according to Official Declaration 1. Because of this, while I would regularly disagree with legislation such as Prop 8, I believe that, for one reason or another, God has made a special case in California. I don’t know why California is so different from other states, but that’s all I can say.

I should note that the opinions expressed in this article are only my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the majority of the members thereof; they are my views based on my interpretation of Mormon doctrine.

Parker and Stone have every right to make their play, and as comedians and satirists, they are allowed a certain leeway with the truth and respect. Journalists, on the other hand, don’t have that leeway, and I hope in the future they will give a more equitable view of my beliefs.

%d bloggers like this: