Advocating sustainability in historic neighborhoods is often like preaching to the choir: the people who live in these neighborhoods have made housing and lifestyle choices that include living on smaller lots and in a smaller building footprint, and the streetscapes favor pedestrians over cars. For much of the last decade, my architectural practice and community service have been focused in the older neighborhoods of Salt Lake that greatly contribute to the vitality and sustainability of the city. Three of these neighborhoods provide an interesting backdrop for a discussion about livability, adaptability and sustainability.
The University District is a group of neighborhoods that, depending on who you ask, would include Douglas, Reservoir Park, East Bryant, part of South Temple and Federal Heights areas. Sharing a common border with the University of Utah, these neighborhoods are blessed by the the richness and diversity of academic circles– as well as the challenges of parking and the transiency of student rental housing. The University and South Temple Historic District provide regulatory review over development and renovations, but community councils have been pushing the City to expand this local historic designation to include several blocks of East Bryant, an area targeted for multi-family and commercial development expansion in recent years. Bike lanes in the grass median along 200 South are another sure flashpoint in this neighborhood.
Yalecrest consists of 1400 homes, a few churches, two schools and and one retail corner. Platted specifically as an upper end suburban neighborhood, Yalecrest has retained that character throughout its 90- year history. While some State legislators may not be able to locate Yalecrest on a map, developers, realtors, architects, and the residents that argue like siblings over its windows and doors, know precisely when you are in or out. But Yalecrest is facing an identity crisis, or at least an identity challenge. Is Yalecrest a historic neighborhood? Or merely a collection of charming brick tudors that need to expand to meet the needs of modern family living?
By contrast, Sugarhouse is a collection of neighborhoods from Wasatch Hollow to Highland Park and Forrest Dale. This popular neighborhood was first home to sugar beet farms, as laid out in the original Plat of Zion, and the first State prison. Sugarhouse now houses a commercial hub of retail spaces, offices and Westminster College on its northern edge. The sun is rising again in Sugarhouse with new walkable housing developments (even the ‘Sugarhole’ appears to be moving ahead), all linked with what will be Salt Lake’s first new streetcar line to operate in 65 years. While the sugar beet farms are long gone, residents may soon start planting in the neighborhood gardens sprouting up from the cracked tennis courts along Sugarmont Ave.
In the coming weeks I will be taking a closer look at how design and public policy are shaping and re-shaping these three neighborhoods within Salt Lake City. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what makes these neighborhoods great and what the challenges are to residents and those that would like to be residents.