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September 29, 2021 News » Cover Story

Block by Block 

A field guide to experiencing Salt Lake City on foot.

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ALEX ZELNITSKIY
  • Alex Zelnitskiy

By Bryant Heath, as told to Benjamin Wood

Throughout 2020, Bryant Heath ran every mile of public street in Salt Lake City. Heath recently shared the observations and highlights from his project with City Weekly during a wide-ranging interview, which has been edited for length and clarity and presented in Heath's own words.

It was December 2019, and I was on Google Maps trying to figure out where I wanted to eat. I started zooming in and out of different regions and thinking how I'd been here and not been there, or maybe I'd driven down that main street but none of its side streets.

I started thinking holistically about the city and how I hadn't been to three-quarters of Salt Lake, even though I've lived here for 10 years. So that was a bit of an eye-opening experience. I thought, I like to run and this would be a good activity, like a New Year's resolution.

My first run was on Jan. 2 around Sugar House Park, and I continued on from there. Other than a few weeks off on three occasions—figuring out my family's pandemic schedule in March, nursing a knee injury in the summer and celebrating the birth of my second daughter in October—I was out there running different Salt Lake City streets every week for the entirety of 2020. After 118 runs and about 1,000 miles, I finished on a run near the airport on Dec. 13, 2020.

People always bring up the interstates. It's illegal to run on freeways, so I'm sorry, I couldn't run on Interstate 80's shoulder—I wouldn't want to anyway. The only other two restrictions I had were any sort of gated community with aggressive no-trespassing signs and any kind of active construction.

But with those two caveats, I am extremely confident that I covered everything.

When you're in a car, you're mostly concerned with getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. Even riding a bike is a little bit like that—you're still doing those mental calculations, and you're not necessarily noticing the environment unless you're on a leisure ride.

But with running, you're kind of forced to do that because you're going so slow. Even on major streets, you're looking around.

You start thinking about these connections and noticing all this stuff that normally would just be on the periphery.


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Location, Location, Location
Before the project, the only experience I had with Westpointe, in the northwest corner of the city, was when I'd be going to the airport. I'd always presumed it wasn't even part of Salt Lake City—I thought it was maybe part of North Salt Lake.

It's a heavily residential area. Unless you live there or, possibly, have kids going to school there, odds are you probably don't spend much time there. It's a very nice neighborhood. There are newer homes and newer development. And there's a lot of small parks and greenspaces.

01_west_and_avenues.png

Out of curiosity, I looked up housing prices on Zillow. By Salt Lake standards, the housing prices are reasonable. So it's a nice neighborhood that's at least on the lower end when it comes to pricing.

When you go through The Avenues on foot, in the foothills northeast of downtown, you really see the uniqueness from block to block and house to house. It's seldom you'll find the same bungalow copy-and-pasted. I always think about when the homes were first built and the original owners and the designs they had in mind. I'm no architectural expert, but I have a superficial knowledge about a lot of topics—building architecture being one of them. I might not be able to tell you if a house is a Victorian or a Tudor, but I can appreciate the diversity that is around.

And then you'll have pockets of commercial business that you stumble upon. There's a Smith's grocery store and the businesses around it that most people know, but also little pockets of retail integrated within the community, which is pretty unique.

centralcity_01.png

Central City, east of Downtown, was interesting to explore because you always think of Salt Lake's streets being on the grid. But between the neighborhood's large thoroughfares, you have dead-end side streets, courts and small avenues. You can fall into one of these cul-de-sacs and then there's eight houses there, a little community, which is kind of neat.

I'm curious how it feels to live there. How could you not be a tight-knit community when you're literally the only eight houses on the end of a cul-de-sac that's between large commercial buildings? And if you're just driving by, there's no way you would ever know it's there.

highlandpark_02.png

I love the area of Highland Park, which runs along the south side of Interstate 80. The houses themselves aren't so ostentatious as what you might see in Harvard/Yale, although the neighborhood looks similar. There are old-growth trees lining the streets and it seems more down-to-earth, plus it's very close to Sugar House Park.

People sometimes think Interstate 80 is the city's boundary line. It's not—the city goes all the way down to Brickyard and 3300 South. So, it's an often-overlooked city neighborhood, but it's beautiful. If I were looking to move, that would be one of the top places where I'd love to live.

Parks and Recreation
Prior to this project, I could probably count on two hands the number of times I was on the west side, which is, in retrospect, very unfortunate. It's now one of my favorite areas, to be honest. The area around Riverside Park is another one I'd like to live in.

Riverside Park
  • Riverside Park

The park is really large and you have easy access to the Jordan River Parkway Trail. There are great tennis courts and a playground—I take my kids there almost on a weekly basis. Everyone defaults to Liberty Park and Sugar House Park, but I feel like Riverside is on par with those two parks, for sure.

Jordan Park
  • Jordan Park

South of Riverside Park, the fact that you have an above-ground river system flowing through Jordan Park and Three Creeks Confluence is very atypical, especially compared to the east side of the city where a lot of the creeks are either covered or underground. You can travel the Jordan River by kayak, and on the west side of Three Creeks, there's a bike trail now that you can easily navigate through.

My kid loves the play area at Three Creeks. She could just hop on those logs for hours if I would let her. And the integration of art with the metal cutouts along the bridge is a cool way to see local artists getting spotlighted all in one place.

Silver Park
  • Silver Park

In the Marmalade District west of the state Capitol, you come across micro parks like Silver Park (near 500 North and Center Street) and Pugsley Ouray Park (500 North and Pugsley Street). These are parks that are so small that on Google Maps they look like they're streets. Maybe two houses could sit on them. You see very small green spaces pop up throughout the valley. If you're driving, there's no way you're going to discover these things. But if you live nearby, you don't have to hop your kids in the car and drive three miles away to use a playground. Having more, smaller parks seems to make sense.

Miller Bird Refuge
  • Miller Bird Refuge

You've probably driven past the Miller Bird Refuge (near East High School and Sunnyside Avenue), but you would never know it's there. The entrance at 900 South (between Diestel Road and Military Drive) is very hidden. It's just a fence—that's the entrance. Right now, it's unfortunate because with the drought levels, there's not really a creek flowing.

When I ran on 900 South, I saw the sign and went home and looked it up. The next day I took my kids down there. It's a short walk, maybe half a mile. The park is also a bird refuge—you hear birds all over the place. It's a great way to disconnect and just listen. You're in a neighborhood near major streets, but you don't hear any of that. That was one of my favorite discoveries.

Another favorite is Parley's Way Park. On a the map, it looks like a little sliver. Everyone knows about Tanner Park, located south of I-80. But Parley's Way Park is north of I-80 and squeezed between the freeway and Foothill Drive. If you live in the neighborhood, I guarantee you know of it. If you've been on Foothill or I-80 you've driven by it a zillion times. But running the street, you can stop and see this sliver of green space that abuts the interstate.

Streets Ahead
I am by no means a city planner, but you can't help but make observations. Going into this project, I was aware of things like Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall's 1,000 Trees initiative and the deficiency of trees on the west side. But if you go up on the east bench and look out across the valley, everything appears kind of uniform from this perspective. I wasn't aware of the discrepancy until I actually ran the streets.

Poplar Grove
  • Poplar Grove

There is a section in Poplar Grove off of Redwood Road that goes into a residential area. I measured and found it was four-tenths of a mile without a tree on the curb strip. You think about a neighborhood like Harvard/Yale where you can't go 40 feet without a tree on the curb strip. Those discrepancies become apparent when you're taking the time and moving at a slow pace.

With the west side's ultra-wide streets, I can't help but think of things like 1200 East, where the city just went through and added a landscaped median. You couldn't have a six-lane-wide road in the east-side residential neighborhoods, so the west side seems ripe for redeisgns like green space in the middle of the street.

Fairpark is home to one of three floating stop signs (1000 West and 500 North) that I remember from running the city. That's just evidence for how crazy some of these intersections are. Drivers can't see the stop sign at the curb because it's so far away.

Boulevard Gardens Street
  • Boulevard Gardens Street

Salt Lake City has a few phantom roads like Boulevard Gardens Street. It's not an actual vehicle road, but it's labeled like one. It's a giant green space off of West Temple (approximately 1800 South) and the entire block is basically conjoined front and back yards. There are several of these scattered around the valley and they were interesting discoveries. I posted a picture of the street, and one of the residents said it's the best place to raise children—they don't have to worry about their safety, there are no vehicles around, they can play in the backyards and have all their buddies from the neighborhood there.

It's an unusual situation, just based on the arrangement of the existing houses. But I don't see why any new development couldn't appropriate this same concept.

I love the density in East Liberty—not necessarily resident density, but street density. Lake Street is one in particular. If you have any cars parked, it becomes a one-lane road. It's the counterpoint to Fairpark's ultra-wide streets. In East Liberty, you see true housing density, but they're all single-family homes instead of boxy apartment buildings. I thought that was an excellent use of space.

Pit Stops
When I was on the west side, just because I had been there so seldomly, I made a point after my runs to try different places to eat. All Chay (1264 W. 500 North, SLC, 801-521-4789), within the Fairpark community, is great. The fact that it's a vegan, vegetarian, Vietnamese restaurant really checks a lot of boxes in my family. And it's near the center of the city (more on that later).

All Chay
  • All Chay

Most people don't go down 700 West because it's heavily industrial. But that's too bad because they're missing out on Victor's Restaurant and Tires (1406 S. 700 West, SLC, 801-326-6182, victorsrestaurant. com). It's a restaurant attached to a tire shop near the Sorensen Center with amazing tamales—that's basically the headline right there.

Sugar House is ginormous—it's basically 12 communities, and people sometimes mistake parts of it for South Salt Lake. Over by the Nibley Park Golf Course, there's Taqueria Los Lee (2646 S. 700 East, SLC, 385-259-0764, taquerialoslee.com). The front facade is a cup of coffee. It used to be—very briefly—a coffee shop, and the new tenants haven't changed it. I crack a smile whenever I pass by it.

Taqueria Los Lee
  • Taqueria Los Lee

Another shop embedded within a neighborhood is Brownies! Brownies! Brownies! (1751 S. 1100 East, SLC, 801-738-5997, browniesx3.com) by Westminster College—and that's another one that's had a rotating cast of tenants. For the past few years, it's been this amazing brownie shop. Any time something good happens in our family, we go down there and get a brownie.

Odds and Dead Ends
Normally, I run on the street itself because it's usually the most flat surface. When the city closed down a dozen or so streets for the Stay Safe, Stay Active initiative, I took advantage of it. It didn't necessarily impede traffic that badly, because most of the closed streets were not large arterial roads.

The runs around the airport were very interesting. They're fun routes—you can do plane spotting and watch arrivals and departures directly over your head. One route is 2100 North, which is a popular bike route. The only car traffic you really get is employees at the FedEx or DHL facilities out there. The road snakes around, and you literally split the airport landing strips. You can run in there, and it ends at the air traffic control tower.

S-Line
  • S-Line

Before the pandemic, I would take my kid on the S-Line Streetcar in Sugar House. It's a fantastic sightseeing adventure for a kid to look out the window of a train, but they're going slowly and can absorb what they're seeing—there's murals and graffiti artwork as well as public, funded art along the tracks that is really interesting. While there is art along all the TRAX lines, the concentration on the S-Line is much higher.

I love talking about the parts of Fairpark east of Interstate 15. These are really random spots, like the townhomes on Hodges Lane, where you can literally play wall ball off the interstate boundary.

South Temple
  • South Temple

South Temple is probably my second favorite street, after 900 West. There are some new sculptures that have gone in, and the properties and houses are stunning. I'm actually reading a book on South Temple history and they talk about all the changes over the years and the different architecture.

I want to talk about all the religious buildings. In Salt Lake, everyone thinks of Temple Square—and rightfully so—but there are amazing religious buildings of all varieties: St. Anne Catholic Church, with that giant, sloping awning off of 2100 South; on 700 West, there is a Buddhist temple, an Islamic center, Our Lady Guadalupe and the Summum Pyramid; on South Temple, there's Cathedral of the Madeleine and on 700 East, there's the round Mount Tabor Lutheran Church. They're actually some of the most interesting buildings in the city.

Cathedral of the Madeleine
  • Cathedral of the Madeleine

After running the roads, you realize how incredibly far west the city goes. Some people might assume the city's center is somewhere near I-15, but they'd be radically off. I calculated the true center of the city, and it is at Walnut Drive and 1400 West (near the Northwest Recreation Center), toward the edge of the city's residential areas. You're in Fairpark, but getting close to Westpointe.

I actually emailed the Salt Lake City Council to see if we could get a marker placed on the sidewalk. I got a letter back and—kind of going full circle here—because they're annexing an area near Parley's Canyon, the city center is going to shift to a spot that is not publicly accessible.

Summum Pyramid
  • Summum Pyramid

The Heath Doctrine
I know the city, but I don't know the city—it's a weird kind of feeling. I've been everywhere, but I don't know, personally, what it's like to live in these neighborhoods.

I think a lot about scale. There are roughly 200,000 residents in Salt Lake City, and I've been by each and every person's house. Very few can say that.

I know what the number 200,000 means now. We're always poor estimators, but now when I hear that more than 600,000 people have died from COVID-19, that's like everywhere I've been three times over. It's a massive amount.

It's really fun to discover. That was a big takeaway from this—just the joy of exploring. There's so many people—and I was like this myself—who go to work, go home, go eat at XYZ restaurant, go to ABC park, and that's their bubble.

This running project was, admittedly, a bit excessive. But even if you can take a different route home, or maybe you ride your bike a little more often in a new area, I guarantee you'll see different things and experience different things that will be positive and beneficial in your life.

So much is made about distinct differences in neighborhoods. It's true to an extent, but you also get to appreciate and notice the similarities. People are working on cars in front of their house all over the place. Kids are playing in their front yards all over the place.

We're all in the same city. And collectively, how we're different makes us so much better, holistically, as a city.

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