About a month ago, a huddle of some 190 trees appeared in the center of 200 East in downtown Salt Lake City.
Food trucks, string lights, a shipping container with a bookstore run by Friends of the City Library and a badminton court all fit inside the tiny forest made up of a dozen different varieties of trees from Akebono Flowering Cherries to Plains Cottonwoods.
This pop-up park in the middle of the street, between 300 South and 400 South, will close at the end of the week (June 10). The city will take down the lights and find permanent homes for the trees but that won’t be the end of the project.
Over the next year several different Salt Lake City departments will sift through survey results and draft plans for what a new ambitious “green loop” downtown could look like.
Adding green space to a growing part of the city
“Downtown has very little green space for the residents,” said Nancy Monteith, senior landscape architect for Salt Lake City. “And now that we are growing so fast, that need for green space continues to grow.”
A needs assessment completed by the public lands department in 2019 found that downtown had the least amount of green space per resident, Monteith noted.
However, finding space to add a new park downtown is a challenge; the land is increasingly pricey and competition with developers is fierce.
Salt Lake City’s wide streets, however, provide a potential solution. The Green Loop park would transform some street space and turn it into a linear park that could cumulatively amount to 60 acres of forest.
The Green Loop project, Monteith said, could also help combat the “heat island effect” by adding more trees to streets that don’t currently have any sources of shade.
People might have a hard time visualizing what such a public space might look and feel like — or how it would impact traffic. The pop-up park provides a way for residents to touch and experience the Green Loop (and provide feedback), before the project gets underway.
Currently, there’s funding to design the project, but not yet for construction.
A collaborative planning process
“Partly what makes this project so unique,” said transportation division director Jon Larsen, “and challenging, but also a great opportunity is the fact that it really does cross between departments, unlike any other project that I’ve seen.”
Tom Millar, planning manager for the department of public lands, added: “Every time we break down those silos, the results are really cool, because we can rethink all of this space that really, ultimately belongs to everybody.”
The pop-up also allowed the city to bring in the fire department and test out whether there was enough space for their larger trucks to navigate in case of fire. “And all of that information is essential for us as we move forward,” Monteith said.
Cars are taking it slower, too
The demonstration park has “opened people’s minds up to what can be done with the street right away,” Larsen said.
Plus, he’s noticed that cars driving around the pop-up park have slowed down — partially because the road is narrower but also because “it’s just this beautiful, human-centered, human-scaled place.”
“I like to say that the best traffic calming is when the street is so beautifully designed, you don’t even realize you’re driving slower,” Larsen said.
Salt Lakers and visitors will have a few more days to experience the pop-up park.
On Wednesday, June 7 there will be live music from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again in the evening from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
On Saturday evening local musicians will play from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.and Bella Pizza will have a food truck.
For more details on the Green Loop plan, the pop-up park schedule and to take the survey on the demonstration click here.