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.

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