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:

1 comment:

  1. Are these 132 ft wide streets restricted to the Temple Square area? Or how far out from the center do they go?