Salt Lake City has “planned” since its first permanent settlers arrived in 1846.

The history of planning in Salt Lake City begins in 1847 when the pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) led by Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley. They were the first non-Native Americans to settle permanently in Salt Lake Valley. Within a few days of their arrival to the Valley they drew a town plan based on Joseph Smith’s “Plat of the City of Zion.” Previous to the LDS pioneers the Salt Lake Valley was inhabited by various Native American groups, such as the Utes (from which the state takes its name), Navajo, Goshute, Paiute and Shoshone. A century before the LDS pioneers settlement other European groups started traveling through this area; the Spanish in the late 1700s, the fur trappers and mountain men in the early 1800s and US government explorers and settlers heading to the west coast in the 1820s and 1830s.

Blocks were arranged on a grid pattern in 10-acre squares centered on Temple Square and separated by streets 132 feet wide. This layout allowed a system of efficient use of land and prevented social isolation. The 10-acre blocks were divided into 8 lots of 1.25 acres each to allow every family a house and room for everyday agriculture, such as a vegetable garden, fruit trees and a few livestock and chickens. Residents had to travel beyond the city wall at 900 South to farm the lots assigned to them by leaders of the church. Resources such as timber and water were owned by the community as a whole.

The original layout functioned well into the 1860s but as the community continued to grow, the layout needed to change. The blocks were subdivided into smaller parcels and the small household agriculture started vanishing. Residents began moving from the city center as Downtown started commercializing  bringing noise and commotion. Nevertheless the pattern of wide streets and big blocks, which Salt Lake City is renowned for, still remains today.

The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 and the spread of the rail network ended Salt Lake City’s relative isolation from the rest of the United States. In turn the economy became more diversified and integrated into the United States. Mining and smelting became leading industries in the region.

Due to the economic diversification a business district, not in the original plan, began to develop along Main Street. Full time police and fire departments were established along with multiple newspapers.

Municipal improvements arrived with the growth of the City. Improvements included better water distribution, installation of gas lamps and electric street lights and a streetcar system. The streetcars enabled people to live further from work and sparked the development of “streetcar suburbs” to the south and east of the city center. Development was pushed further away from the City center as developers platted neighborhoods along proposed streetcar lines and streetcar lines were proposed to connect future neighborhoods.

Problems accompanied the improvements of the growing City. By the early 1900s, railroad tracks bisected Salt Lake City and the industry that was attracted to them isolated residential areas on the west side. Before the 1930s Salt Lake City had highly polluted air and no sewage treatment simply dumping pollutants into the Jordan River. Class differences emerged and characterized many neighborhoods. Working class residents lived at lower elevations of the Valley and to the west while professional, middle class people chose higher elevations and to the east because it was quieter and located above the smog.

Salt Lake City responded to the common problems of urbanization and industrialization by creating the City as we know it today. The Progressive Era (approximately 1890 to 1920) included a city beautification program and a commission form of government, established in 1911.

The first city wide master plan was prepared in 1919 by George E. Kessler. Titled the Preliminary Report for Salt Lake City, it presented recommendations for transportation and highway facilities, proper zoning, ample commercial areas, recreation facilities, promotion of natural amenities, elimination of clutter, grouping of public and semi-public buildings, and improved water supply. It was the guide to the first comprehensive zoning ordinance adopted on September 1, 1927.

After a depressed era between the world wars, World War II ushered in an era of local prosperity. War industries proliferated along the Wasatch Front because of Utah’s interior location. Defense industries remained after the war during the Cold War escalation. By the early 1960s, Utah had the most defense-oriented economy in the nation.

This boom helped create a number of important capital improvement projects in the 1950s, including a new airport terminal, improved parks and recreational facilities, upgraded storm sewers and construction of the City’s first water-treatment plants.

During this prosperous time, suburbs outside Salt Lake City began to develop. With higher incomes people began to purchase automobiles and leave the aging neighborhoods of Salt Lake City. The 1960s saw the start of 30 year population decline and a deteriorating Downtown.

In response to the deterioration and demolition of city landmarks, the 1970s saw a preservation movement. The first historic district in the City was established along South Temple in 1976. The 1970s also saw the development of new businesses and shopping malls downtown along with accompanying city wide beautification projects to bring people back downtown.

During the 1980s Salt Lake City continued to see improvements to the Downtown with an expansion of the Salt Palace Convention Center and the building of the Triad Center. Other important citywide developments of this period included the Salt Lake International Center near the airport, and the University of Utah’s Research Park.

In the 1990s the consolidation of the railroad lines opened opportunities for new development in Downtown, including what would become the Gateway District. Revitalization of Downtown continued with the rebuilding of the Salt Palace Convention Center, new major office towers, new courts complex, new sports arena, redeveloped city blocks, restored building facades and new urban parks downtown.

The 2002 Olympic Winter Games helped renew Salt Lake City with the reconstruction of I-15 and the installation of the TRAX light rail line. Main Street changed substantially to accommodate TRAX, it was narrowed and the streetscape had a major makeover to become more pedestrian friendly. Main Street was also closed off at the Temple Square block to create a plaza, and a new LDS conference center was built across North Temple from it. This activity on the north end of Downtown preceded City Creek Center, a development of mixed use housing and a mall. Salt Lake City saw the only major mall opening in this past recession with City Creek Center.

Salt Lake City neighborhoods are progressively being rediscovered. Proximity to Downtown, shorter commute distances, and neighborhood character are some of the reasons for renewed interest in revitalizing older neighborhoods. It started in the Avenues, a residential neighborhood located northeast of Downtown, when it became a historic district in 1979. Capitol Hill followed by becoming a historic district in 1984. In the 1980s other areas of the City that were not in a historic district also became a focus for revitalization such as the Wasatch Hollow and Sugar House areas east of 1300 East Street. At the same time, NeighborWorks started meeting with neighbors about revitalizing the East Liberty Park neighborhood. In the 1990s, Central City and the University neighborhoods also became historic districts. Meanwhile, NeighborWorks moved from East Liberty Park and made its headquarters and major emphasis the Guadalupe neighborhood and helped that neighborhood reverse its decline. Also in the 1990s Rose Park increased its housing stock with new housing developments. Currently, Downtown has made a complete turnaround by making housing a priority.

Salt Lake City Master Plans

Salt Lake City has had three city wide master plans: the Preliminary Report of City Planning for Salt Lake City from 1919, the City Plan: Salt Lake City, Utah from 1943, and A Master Plan for Salt Lake City from 1967. After 1967, the City began to focus on a series of plans to specifically address different specific elements or areas within Salt Lake City, such as the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and the Central Community Master Plan or the Avenues Community Master Plan. There are also plans that directly affect the City but are not city approved documents, such as the Futures Commission Report of 1997 and Wasatch Choices 2040.

Preliminary Report of City Planning for Salt Lake City, 1919

Salt Lake City initiated its planning activities with the establishment of a planning commission and the publication of a report in 1919 titled Preliminary Report of City Planning for Salt Lake City, Utah. Assisted by George E. Kessler and a citizen committee, the Planning Commission developed the first master plan for Salt Lake City.

The 1919 report presented recommendations for adequate transportation and highway facilities, proper zoning, ample commercial areas, recreation facilities, utilization of natural amenities, elimination of clutter, grouping of public and quasi-public buildings, and an improved water supply.

Recognizing the need to maintain a separation between land uses, the City, about this same time, adopted ordinances regulating the location of manufacturing, packing houses, breweries, and livery stables, etc. Regulations were also initiated, establishing restricted residential districts where it was unlawful to build or operate noxious businesses.

Guided by the recommendations and principles contained in the 1919 plan, the City prepared and adopted its first comprehensive zoning ordinance on September 1, 1927. This ordinance regulated businesses, industries and buildings, in terms of their permitted geographic location within the City. The zoning ordinance further regulated the height, size, and placement of buildings with respect to their property lines and neighboring properties.

This zoning ordinance and its accompanying map depicting the distribution of zones constituted the General Plan for Salt Lake City from 1927 until 1943.

City Plan: Salt Lake City, Utah, 1943

The Depression and World War II stimulated a new interest in planning throughout the nation. Greater enabling legislation at the state level led to a new city master plan published in 1943.

The plan investigated population, employment, and the prospects for future growth. Specific element plans were prepared for parks and recreation, transportation, health, police, fire protection, libraries, hospitals, schools, water, and major streets. Special studies and recommendations were made for a civic center, sanitary sewer system, storm drains, smoke problems, housing, blight, mosquito control, street lighting, and public works projects. The plan also identified existing and proposed land uses as a guide for future development. Proposals for the proper location of residences, businesses, and industry were recommended along with a zoning map, which could be adopted by the legislative authority for implementation of the plan.

A Master Plan for Salt Lake City, 1967

A general comprehensive master plan for the City was prepared by the Planning Department and adopted by the City Commission on November 28, 1967.

Salt Lake City’s master planning process continued to emerge from the city-wide comprehensive document A Master Plan for Salt Lake City, adopted in 1967. This general plan was augmented by subsequent reports analyzing, in substantial detail, the physical, social, and economic characteristics of the City. Utilizing this information along with the 1967 plan, the City began the next phase of the planning program which entailed the creation of development plans for each of the seven planning communities. These community plans delineated in greater detail what the future physical development of the community should be and identified the necessary programs for implementation of plan recommendations.

The comprehensive process, as a series of documents, presented a narrowed focus of planning specificity from the general to the specific, from the comprehensive to the site plan or single purpose report and from the long range to the immediate. The process was still general in that it contained policies and objectives for programs and recommended activities which were inter-related or updated the preceding series. It was comprehensive in that it encompassed all geographical parts and all functional elements influencing the development of the City. They were each at differing levels of planning specificity consistent with overall general policy, long range in that the process looks beyond the foreground of pressing current issues.

The level of planning specificity of each element reflects the purpose, scope, timing and inter-relationship of the elements as part of the overall City Master Plan. The elements which make up the plan are divided into the following levels of planning specificity: 1) general comprehensive plans, 2) element master plans, 3) community development plans, 4) neighborhood-block redevelopment plans, and 5) special purpose studies.