After coming in and taking a whirlwind tour, eight experts this week left behind 68 pages of suggestions for downtown Salt Lake City's future. Some of the ideas run counter to cherished aspects of the city - saying it is "too clean" and the streets "too wide" - but all are worth considering, even if all are not adopted.
The R/UDAT group, an acronym for Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team, was made up of architects, urban planners, and other outside experts who agreed to come in and give their opinions on what Salt Lake City needs to do to revitalize itself. Similar studies have been done in other cities.Essentially, R/UDAT said three basic things. The first, and most important, is that all major groups in the city need to get together and develop some kind of agreed-upon ideal of what the community is to be like, and a strategy to get there. The second observation is that the city needs to be more "people-oriented" and not cater so much to cars. And third, Main Street and the south end of the downtown area must be re-established as a retail and office center.
It was in line with this second idea that comments were made about the city being too clean and the streets too straight and wide.
The inspection team said the "asphalt jungle" appearance should be broken up by strips to narrow the streets; by using urban design to break up blank walls of big buildings; by using more landscaping downtown; and by getting rid of "ugly parking lots," of which there are far too many. Streets outside the big malls should feature speciality shops to attract pedestrians.
Other recommendations: The south area of downtown should be developed with state and local government offices and courts buildings. A new area should be built to the West of the Salt Palace - immediately. And more effective use should be made of mass transit, instead of relying on the auto.
None of these suggestions are really new, except perhaps the one to get rid of above-ground parking terraces. Many of the others have been tried, at least in a limited way - including much-criticized planter boxes to add greenery downtown, and the narrowing of some streets to accommodate bus stops.
The R/UDAT people were unanimous in saying that Salt Lake City has many advantages over other cities - "tons of advantages" as one put it.
The chief failing seems to be lack of an enthusiastic working together by people from all walks of life - people and organizations and government entities - all committed to rebuilding downtown. In fact, the study team seemed far more enthusiastic than many Salt Lakers have been.
Like many other communities, Salt Lake City has fallen victim to suburban malls and the auto - and in some respects, to its own downtown malls.
Yet it is not too late to recover. The north end, with Temple Square and the area's beautiful plazas and malls, is in good shape. The rescue efforts must move further south and pump new life into those blocks.
R/UDAT has done its work. Now it is up to the rest of us.