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McEntee: No, Canada — Salt Lake need not copy Vancouver

Published August 20, 2012 3:04 pm

Urban life • Becker & Co.'s trip north was a costly and unnecessary jaunt.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There's a big difference between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Salt Lake City, and it's not just about public spaces.

So it's mystifying why Mayor Ralph Becker would lead a coterie of about 30 city staffers and guests on a four-day jaunt to the Pacific Coast city, where biking and walking are a pleasure and where, evidently, all you need for a lively public space are a few tables, chairs and umbrellas.

I don't doubt that the mayor and staffers were sincere in their belief that a field trip would yield some new ideas for Utah's capital.

But I question the sheer number, which included a New York adviser and a couple of Downtown Alliance people.

I also wonder about the $50,000 to $55,000 cost of the trip, which would equal about $1,800 per person.

Vancouver shares a fondness for lively public spaces with Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. It also shares weather, with average summer temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees and winter readings in the mid-30s.

Not so in the Salt Lake Valley, which now holds captive a pall of smoke and smog that makes it awfully hard to even think about going outside. While temperatures have eased a tad this week, it's still hot; average yearly highs are in the 90s and lows dip to 27 degrees.

So I decided to tour the downtown area and see whether anyone was taking advantage of sidewalk dining areas. The short answer: practically no one, save pedestrians.

Plazas at EnergySolutions Arena, Abravanel Hall and Gallivan appeared to be empty, as were most sidewalk tables. The sidewalks themselves were lightly populated, even at lunch hour.

The outside dining area at City Creek Center was nearly full. But, of course, it's a mall.

While downtown Salt Lake City seems a bit moribund, there's plenty to praise not far away.

The city has a bounty of parks, including the iconic Liberty, Pioneer and Sugar House, as well as countless neighborhood pocket parks. In the past few years, community gardens have sprouted up all over the place.

I love walking through the city's cemeteries, where huge old trees provide shade and an atmosphere for contemplation.

So, no, this isn't Vancouver or Portland, Ore. It's just Salt Lake City, a quite beautiful city when the air is clear and when thunderstorms roll in and when the snow glistens like beds of diamonds.

Vibrancy will take time, but there's reason to celebrate what we have right now. Besides, every city creates its own ambience, and while good ideas are always welcome, there's no reason to believe we can't, too — without trooping to some faraway locale on the taxpayer dime.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.