Monday, December 10, 2012

Wide Streets with Broad Brush

Since the first time I came to downtown Salt Lake City at the age of six, I have always been fascinated with its wide streets and grid system.

Looking south on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City. (Photo courtesy of
As a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, I am enrolled in a course called Writing for Digital Media. I took the class to improve my understanding of and my ability to communicate through social media, which is one of my responsibilities at work.

Much of our discussion and assigned readings in the course focus on rhetoric. I find the material fascinating and am intrigued by the idea that the use of space itself is a form of rhetoric. 

As our professor encouraged us to pursue a semester project that deals with the way that digital space in Salt Lake City is created and negotiated, I thought that I could explore this idea of digital rhetoric in the context of the layout and design of downtown Salt Lake.

Rather than recreating the rationale for starting this blog, here is a copy of my project proposal for the course:

My proposed project entails exploring the history of the layout of Salt Lake City, what rhetoric the city’s planners wanted to convey with their design, and the implications of that rhetoric today for citizens of and visitors to the city.

The story goes that Brigham Young, who led Mormon settlers to the West in 1847, directed that the streets of Salt Lake City be made sufficiently wide so that a wagon team could turn around without “resorting to profanity” (Deseret News, July 13, 2009). 

Salt Lake City,  about 1880. (Photo courtesy of the Deseret News archive)
In addition to boasting extra-wide streets—in stark contrast to the narrow, winding streets of most East Coast cities—the city was laid out in a grid system, with streets running at perfect right angles to each other, pointing exactly north-south or east-west. Streets were given numbers instead of names, allowing citizens and visitors to easily find an address without having to know the location of a particular street.

Given the original width of the streets, which was set at 132 feet, when streetcars and automobiles became popular in the early 1900s it was unnecessary to widen the streets to accommodate new transportation technologies.

Salt Lake City, about 1945. (Photo courtesy of the Deseret News archive)
The final product will include text, images, audio, video, maps, and other media to convey how the rhetoric of street space in downtown Salt Lake City has evolved and how it has shaped and is shaped by technology. 

This blog will evolve into that semester-long project, but hopefully it will generate some conversation about Salt Lake City, its unique design, and the rhetoric that permeates and surrounds it.

Here is a video trailer I put together for my project:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

History of Salt Lake's Grid System

The ideas for the layout of Salt Lake City originated with Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

Smith’s concept of city planning originated in what was known as the City of Zion plan, prepared in 1833. The plan called for a grid pattern with streets 132 feet wide, multi-acre lots within each city block, backyard gardens, houses set 25 feet back from the street and staggered so that no house directly faced another on the opposite side of the street.
Undated drawing, courtesy of
After Smith was killed in 1844, Brigham Young led Mormon settlers to the West, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. Almost immediately, Young and his community members set about selecting a plot of land and laying out the city around and out from the 10-acre parcel that would later become Temple Square.

Young designed the city with the 132-foot-wide streets, as Smith envisioned, and divided the city blocks into eight 1.25-acre lots instead of the 20 half-acre lots that the Smith plan called for. Houses were set back 20 feet from the street, with landscaping in front and gardens and barns in back, and reflected the stagger pattern of Smith’s plan so that no house directly faced another across the street.

Regarding the width of the streets, the story goes that Brigham Young, who led Mormon settlers to the West in 1847, directed that the streets of Salt Lake City be made sufficiently wide so that a wagon team could turn around without “resorting to profanity” (Deseret News, July 13, 2009). 

Other towns settled in the region reflected this general pattern of large lots and wide streets, also using the same grid system that Salt Lake City is famous for and which will be discussed in my next post.

At the time—and even today—many Mormon faithful believe that Smith and Young were divinely inspired in their design of the city. Observe the following word cloud generated from the text of one historical account:


Whether or not one characterizes these architects as prophetic, Jackson (1992) does indicate that “this expansive pattern later enhanced urbanization, providing space for four lanes of traffic and for large-scale downtown development” (p. 284). 



Jackson, R. (1992). The Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Comparison of City-Block Sizes

Jackson (1992) cites Joseph Smith's familiarity with the rectangular blocks of Philadelphia, as well as his New England-village upbringing as the inspiration for the size of city blocks in Smith's City of Zion plan.

As the poster below indicates, Salt Lake boasts the largest city blocks of any major American city.

Here is an even more stark representation of the difference between the city blocks of Salt Lake City and Portland, Oregon:

In this class I'm taking, Digital Media and Rhetoric, one of the concepts we have discussed is the idea that  how we use space is actually a form of rhetoric. So, what were Mormon leaders saying when they designed a city with a layout unlike any other?

How ironic it is, then, that a city with the widest streets and largest blocks--what one would associate with openness and accommodation--would gain a reputation for having a narrow rhetoric in terms of the Mormon faith's stance on the consumption of alcohol and tobacco; premarital and extramarital sex; the role of women and minorities in the church's predominately white, male hierarchy; homosexuality; and gambling.

In these posts I wish to explore what the founders of Salt Lake City were saying within the physical network of wide streets and intersections and what other voices are saying back to them via the virtual, digital space that we create and in turn creates us.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Salt Lake's Grid System: A How-To

Visitors to Salt Lake often cry foul when they try to navigate the city’s grid system for street addresses. But it’s actually quite easy once you understand how it works.

The city is generally laid out with streets running east-west or north-south. To orient yourself to the compass directions, if you are downtown the State Capitol is to the north, the airport and the Great Salt Lake are to the west, and the Wasatch Mountains are to the east.

Main Street divides the eastern and western halves of the city, and South Temple is the line separating north and south. It is called South Temple because it runs along the southern edge of Temple Square. Salt Lake addresses are based on how far north or south from South Temple they are, and how far east or west of Main Street they are.

The street running east-west that is one block south of South Temple is called 100 South, meaning that it is one block to the south of South Temple. The next street to the south is called 200 South, meaning it is two blocks south of South Temple. That pattern continues all the way to the south end of the valley, where, for example, 14600 South is 146 blocks south of South Temple.

It also works the same way for street names that end in North, East, or West. So the street named 600 North is six blocks north of South Temple, 1300 East is 13 blocks east of Main Street, and 5600 West is 56 blocks west of Main Street.

Now, just to throw you a curve ball or two, the street that in theory should be 100 North is actually called North Temple because it runs along the northern edge of Temple Square. The same goes for the street on the western edge of Temple Square. The system says it should be 100 West, but it’s called West Temple. There is no East Temple Street on the eastern edge of Temple Square; instead, that is Main Street. Also, 100 East is not 100 East; rather, it is called State Street because the State Capitol lies at the northern end of the street.

Now you’re either thoroughly confused, or all these Easts, Wests, Norths, and Souths are starting to make sense to you. Putting it all together, a house with a street address of 425 East 900 South means that it is four and a quarter blocks east of Main Street and nine blocks south of South Temple. The first part of the address, 425, is the house number, and the second part, 900 South, is the street that the house is located on. All Salt Lake grid-system addresses are arranged this way: first is the house number, and then the street.

Another trick to understanding the grid system is that locals will often abbreviate the name of a street, saying 3rd South for 300 South, 7th East for 700 East, 6th North for 600 North, and so on. As wide as the streets are in Salt Lake, some are even wider, and these have become main thoroughfares as the automobile came into vogue. For your reference, here is a list of such streets (grouped by compass direction):
  • 7th (700) East, 13th (1300) East, 23rd East 
  • 6th (600) South, 13th (1300) South, 21st South, 33rd South, 45th South, 53rd South, 72nd South, 90th South, 106th South, 123rd South
  • 3rd (300) West, 9th (900) West, 13th West, 27th West, 32nd West, 40th West, 56th West
Hopefully, this explanation helps. Once you learn the Salt Lake system you may actually prefer it because you don’t have to memorize street names and locations like in other major cities; you simply plug in the coordinates of the grid system, use the nearest major thoroughfare to get you close to your destination and find it from there. Or you could plug it into your turn-by-turn GPS navigator or smartphone app—your choice.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Clash of Rhetoric in Salt Lake

For nearly three millennia, rhetoric has been defined in a number of ways by various individuals.

Corax, 476 BCE: “[Rhetoric is] the demiourgos, or artificer, of persuasion” (Kennedy, 1963). Source: Quoted in George A. Kennedy, The Art of Persuasion in Greece. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1963. 61.

Gorgias, 414 BCE: “The power of speech has the same effect on the condition of the soul as the application of drugs to the state of bodies; for just as different drugs dispel different fluids from the body, and some bring an end to disease but others end life, so also some speeches cause pain, some pleasure, some fear; some instill courage, some drug and bewitch the soul with a kind of evil persuasion. Source: Gorgias, “Encomium of Helen.” On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Trans. George A. Kennedy. New York. Oxford UP, 1991. 287.

Socrates, center, prepares to take the cup of hemlock at his execution.
Socrates (as quoted by Plato):  “Must not the art of rhetoric, taken as a whole, be a kind of influencing of the mind by means of words, not only in courts of law and other public gatherings, but in private places also?” Source: Plato, Phaedrus. Trans. R. Hackforth. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1961. 261a-261b.

Aristotle, 350 BCE: “Let rhetoric be [defined as] an ability, in each [particular] case, to see the available means of persuasion.” Source: Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Trans. George A. Kennedy. New York. Oxford UP, 1991. 1355b.

St. Augustine, 426: "After all, the universal task of eloquence, in whichever of these three styles, is to speak in a way that is geared to persuasion." Source: St. Augustine, Teaching Christianity: De doctrina christiana. Ed. John E. Rotelle. Trans. Edmund Hill. Hyde Park, NY: New City, 1996. 4.55.

The consensus of these and other thinkers and scholars is that rhetoric is intended to persuade.

The five canons of classical rhetoric are invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery (Brooke, 2009). These canons lend themselves very well to the linearity and space of the printed page.

As Rice (2006) argues, “the space of the page . . . is tied to the single author, the individual who works in one fixed space within a fixed disciplinary focus with a single identity tied to a singly motivated reading practice tied to a single idea expressed at a single moment” (p. 130).

In contrast, Rice (2006) continues, “The space somewhere else . . . is the open space constructed out of connections where multiple writers engaging within multiple ideas in multiple media at multiple moments function. That space somewhere else is the network. . . . In that process of making networks, writers, through their work, see themselves connected to information in ways the space on the page does not allow” (p. 130).

In a similar manner, the original planners of Salt Lake designed their city to match their faith’s rhetoric of order, conformity, and uniformity. However, over time, as settlers of other faiths—or of no faith at all—moved into the city, the wide streets that conveyed openness began to fill with networks (rhetorical, social, and cultural) that challenged and competed with established ways of life.

My next post will look at the implications of Michel de Certeau’s “Walking in the City” in the wide streets of Salt Lake as the city grappled with this tension between the intent of its founders and its subsequent settlers.



Brooke, C. (2009). Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. Collin Brooke. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Rice, J. (2006, November). "Networks and New Media." College English, Vol. 69, No. 2.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Walking in the City" - Michel De Certeau

Trying to characterize the dynamic between the designers and founders of Salt Lake and those who use its wide streets as part of their everyday experience is made much easier through the lens provided by Michel de Certeau in his seminal essay, “Walking in the City,” which appeared in The Practice of Everyday Life.

Michel de Certeau
De Certeau makes a distinction between those who fashioned the system of a city—“urbanists” and “architects,” he calls them—and “walkers . . . the ordinary practitioners of the city [who] live ‘down below,’ below the thresholds at which visibility begins” (p. 93).

De Certeau continues: “The walk—an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wändersmanner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen” (p. 93). These spaces constitute rhetoric, not in the form of spoken language, but are often expressed through “real systems whose existence in fact makes up the city” (p. 97).

Carrying the idea of space as rhetoric even further, De Certeau compares walking to the speech act: “The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered” (p. 97). He continues, “Walking affirms, suspects, tries out, trangresses, respects, etc., the trajectories it ‘speaks’” (p. 99).

De Certeau compares the grammarians on language to the “urbanists and architects” (p. 100) who try to define the “proper” use and meaning of space, but  walkers’ “rhetorical transplantation carries away and displaces the analytical, coherent proper meanings of urbanism” (p. 102).

Walkers in downtown Salt Lake
While there is an “official” narrative authored by those “urbanists and architects,” De Certeau observes that “the language of power is in itself ‘urbanizing,’ but the city is left prey to contradictory movements that counterbalance and combine themselves outside the reach of panoptic power” (p. 95). We have seen this in Salt Lake City over the years in public discourse, as smaller groups have challenged prevailing political and cultural influences—including the Utah Legislature’s voting “wet” instead of “dry” for the 21st Amendment in the 1930s; and Salt Lake City’s authorizing health benefits for domestic partners of its gay employees—and won.

Another metaphor associated with the rhetoric of the printed page is that of the topos—which is Greek for place, and also referred to as a container—where author, topic, identity, and space are limited to that page. Rice (2006) speaks to this idea: “The space of the page . . . is tied to the single author, the individual who works in one fixed space within a fixed disciplinary focus with a single identity tied to a singly motivated reading practice tied to a single idea expressed at a single moment” (p. 130).

De Certeau also does not see walkers in the city as being limited to a topos/place. “Pedestrian movements form one of these ‘real systems whose existence in fact makes up the city.’ They are not localized; it is rather that they spatialize. They are no more inserted within a container than those Chinese characters speakers sketch out on their hands with their fingertips” (p. 97).

Not only are walkers not limited to place, according to De Certeau. In fact, “to walk is to lack a place. It is the indefinite process of being absent and in search of a proper. The moving about that the city multiplies and concentrates makes the city itself an immense social experience of lacking a place” (p. 103).

The place outside the container—and off the printed page, as Rice (2006) described it—is “the space somewhere else . . . [it] is the open space constructed out of connections where multiple writers engaging within multiple ideas in multiple media at multiple moments function. That space somewhere else is the network. . . . In that process of making networks, writers, through their work, see themselves connected to information in ways the space on the page does not allow” (p. 130).

Expanding on Rice’s “elsewhere” of the network, De Certeau clarifies that “the networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator” (p 93).

Exploring where these stories emerge is the topic of my next post, where I look at Rice’s Digital Detroit: Rhetoric and Space in the Age of the Network (2012) and how the network has helped or hindered the dialogue among walkers of Salt Lake in its wide streets.



De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life (translated by Steven Rendell). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Rice, J. (2006, November). "Networks and New Media," College English, Vol. 69, No. 2.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Power of the Network

Whether they named it specifically or merely described the concept, a number of scholars we studied in my Digital Rhetoric class referred to the idea of the network in trying to understand how rhetoric finds its place in the new-media world.

Brooke (2009), in Lingua Fracta, discusses a shift of focus from text to interface in the study of rhetoric. In a similar vein, Weinberger (2002) argued that the first step in acknowledging the different space(s) of the Web is to shed the metaphor of the container, meaning that a study of a text (some object to be examined, explicated, or deconstructed) itself yields much about its ingredients (ideas and arguments), but it does not necessarily address how that text interacts with other texts. The image below captures the concept of the network, where there are sites of interaction surrounded by open space.

I recall an experience I had with this tension between text and interface when I was involved with the process of housing Hurricane Katrina evacuees at Camp Williams, Utah, in 2005.

In the fall of 2005, when thousands of Louisiana residents were left homeless in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, about 600 were flown to Utah and sheltered at Camp Williams (shown in the image below). The local and national media interest in the evacuees was intense, and as public affairs officer for the Utah National Guard, it was my responsibility—along with my public-information counterparts in Utah state government—to escort reporters onto the base and arrange for media interviews with evacuees.

At first we tried a one-to-one ratio of escorts and reporters, where one escort would accompany one reporter from the time the reporter entered the base to the time they left. However, the demand for media access to the base quickly overwhelmed our small staff of escorts. So we went to what we called a “Zone Defense.” This entailed stationing an escort at key locations on the base (information center, barracks, dining facility, recreation room), where reporters would most likely encounter evacuees, and having them assist any reporter that came to that location.

Katrina evacuees at Camp Williams, Sept. 8, 2005 (Utah National Guard photo).
We found that we were much more effective when we focused on the interface between reporter and escort in the various layers of the network rather than the labor-intensive method of focusing on a single text (meaning an individual reporter) from start to finish.

Rice (2012) put it very simply, “We live in the age of the network” (p. 5). This idea was a primary focus of his book, Digital Detroit: Rhetoric and Space in the Age of the Network.  He characterized Detroit “as a situation and not only as a physical space, [engaging] in a project about invention, rhetoric, and how we engage with spaces of meaning” (p. 6).

With that in mind, Rice’s (2012) citing of Hayles (2005) makes a lot of sense: “The network [is] the place where meanings come together, break apart, form hubs, connect and disconnect” (p. 6).

From a theoretical perspective, Latour (1999), is one of the main proponents of Actor-Network Theory, describing it as a “summing up of interactions through various kinds of devices, inscriptions, forms, and formulae, into a very local, very practical, very tiny locus” (p. 17), meaning that it follows the actors, describing what they do, and taking into account their individual and collective influence on each other.

In this approach, process is generally more important than content. As Rice (2012) observes, “The importance of the network is not that information connects, but rather that the connections affect other connections. . . . Networks move and are moved; they transform and translate experiences and ideas as they form and break connections. They do things “(p. 70).

Rice (2012) adds that “[Johnson’s] Sleeper Curve suggests that, in McLuhanist fashion, media content is less important that media structure. Exposure to complex structures . . . can lead to complex thinking” (p. 177).

That complex thinking is facilitated by the network. Howard (2011) contends that “the power to control information no longer resides exclusively with the institutions of the state; it resides in media networks; and media networks are constituted by social relations and communication technologies” (p. 20). And referring specifically to the social media impact on the Arab Spring—but which could be applied to the network in general—Cambié (2012) added that “co-creation—the act of producing content by sharing voices and ideas from a wide audience—is probably the most important lesson that communicators can draw” (p. 31).

Rice (2012) explains that “[we are] drawn into narratives  . . . because of a specific, personal connection” (p. 59). So, naturally, my entry point in starting this blog was to further explore my lifelong fascination with Salt Lake’s wide streets and grid system. But aren’t these simply a container which channels the traffic here and pedestrians there?

I can share my thoughts about what the founders of Salt Lake were saying when they established the grid system of wide streets in the city, and what I think others are saying back to them—which I will do in my next post—but that is merely one text that by itself will not add much to the conversation. The real issue is to get at how other Utahans and visitors to Salt Lake interface with that system, what it means to them, and how they share that information.

This can only occur through the intersection of opinion, experience, and rhetoric that is uniquely accommodated through the digital sphere.



Brooke, C. (2009). Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Cambié, S. (2012, January-February)." Lessons from the Front Line: The Arab Spring Demonstrated the Power of People--and Social Media." Communication World, pp. 28-32.

Hayles, K. (2005). My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Howard, P. (2011). Castells and the Media: Theory and Media.Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Latour, B. (1999). "On Recalling ANT." In Actor Network Theory and After. J. Law and J. Hassard (Eds.), pp. 15-25. Oxford: Blackwell.

Rice, J. (2012). Digital Detroit: Rhetoric and Space in the Age of the Network. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Weinberger, D. (2007). Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of New Digital Disorder. New York: Times Books.