Mayor’s Symposium 2011 — Riverscape: Salt Lake City meet the Jordan River

Jordan River

The first annual Mayor’s Symposium, hosted by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning, was held on February 17, 2011, at the Northwest Community Center.

Nan Ellin
Nan Ellin, Chair of the City + Metropolitan Planning Department at the University of Utah, welcomed all of the attendees to the Mayor’s Symposium, the first of an annual event bringing people together to have conversations that matter. Setting forth the goals of the current symposium and those to follow, Ellin spoke to protecting the treasures of Salt Lake City, enhancing what may be underperforming, and working collectively to fill in what may be missing. She extended gratitude to all participants – speakers and attendees – for engaging the ongoing conversation about the Jordan River, the theme of this year’s symposium. Ellin then introduced Mayor Becker, the host and first speaker of the morning.
By Cory Ingersoll</p>

Mayor Ralph Becker
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker followed Ellin’s welcome to kick off Riverscape with a discussion on the City’s goal to focus on special places so the City will be as magnificent as the surrounding landscape. They mayor believes the Jordan River can be symbol of the region if we can rescue it from neglect and return it to the asset it really should be for the community, a gem in the Great Basin desert. Many opportunities abound along the river for positive community engagement— rich agricultural lands, perhaps for future food supply, and both structures and natural places with cultural, historical, and educational significance like the Fisher Mansion. Promotion of a healthy ecosystem and the creation of compatible development along the river are needed to protect the remaining 100 acres of undeveloped land along its banks. Mayor Becker and the City are focusing on trail development and the opportunities the Jordan River trail presents to link with other regional trails such as Legacy Parkway and Bonneville Shoreline trails. The next steps are focused on governance, so these restoration and improvement ideas become a reality.
By Nick Tanner

Karl Haglund
Karl Haglund, author of Inventing the Charles River, opened his presentation with the statement “Water is to the landscape what the eye is to the face” (Horace Mann) and and referenced Le Corbusier’s “Contemporary City,” Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Broadacre City,” and T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” He identified key points that need to be considered when beginning the process of reclaiming a waterway. Haglund noted the importance of encouraging comments, negotiating the best possible connections, making the river beautiful, making no little plans, and considering a shared future not a common past. These points are all relevant to the Jordan River process that Salt Lake City is beginning to engage. Haglund presented three main points: first, there must be a common vision and entities need to be ready to go; second is patience and working in increments, and third is making sure there are champions in place to carry the project through to completion. Haglund has substantial experience and his words were inspiring to those in attendance.
By Charlotte Frehner

Wendi Goldsmith
Wendy Goldsmith, from the Bioengineering Group, spoke to sustainable development and creating a balance between social and environmental requirements. She emphasized beginning the process with a focus on the three categories of ecology: geomorphology (how land and water influence each other), bioengineering (integration of vegetation, landscape design, urban planning, and engineering), and human impacts (dams, diversions, channel modification, storm water runoff, change in vegetative cover, pollutant loading). Goldsmith further broke down the categories, identifying objectives in each area that will need to be considered. Weaving the ecology, geomorphology, and bioengineering into the larger intertwined waterway system, she described all of the checks and balances that are needed to restore a natural habitat. Goldsmith’s main message was that in a sustainable human environment, departure from natural conditions requires management strategies that can maintain natural ecosystems.
By Sarah Simchuk

Kyle Zeppelin
Kyle Zeppelin, of RINO, River North Development in Denver, spoke about their Taxi model development, the creation of an active public waterfront in an urban core. Zeppelin’s group wanted to take advantage of River North’s natural resources and the connectivity it created throughout the larger area. They believed the industrialized waterfront site offered a variety of opportunities, both cultural and environmental. Like the Jordan River, this part of Denver was underutilized and like those in attendance at the Riverscape Symposium, they want to make the riverfront an inviting space for people.

Recounting the history of redevelopment along industrialized waterfronts, Zeppelin referenced Northern European cities where this type of reuse first became popular. Underutilized urban areas, he explained, can offer opportunities for design freedom. The role of design in redevelopment of riverfront properties can make neighborhoods more interesting, bridging the natural and the built environments. Zeppelin’s group has begun to transform the human environment, adding bike paths and substantial pedestrian access. In the future, they hope to continue this transformation by adding cafés and other community spaces.

Zeppelin next spoke about the importance of engaging the public in the planning process. It’s important to adopt a neighborhood plan. In addition, the city needs to provide the framework to encourage redevelopment. The planning process can often seems endless, and is tough to realize without financing. While the city of Denver played a key role in securing the funding for the project, working with the city on necessary infrastructure improvements has been a slow process. Even in light of setbacks that the Taxi development has encountered, Zeppelin believes the site has potential for high-density housing and economic development with high quality jobs. Zeppelin promoted a common goal for urban riverfronts: restoring nature and providing recreational opportunities, making the rivers active and inviting for residents and visitors.
By Chris Kotrodimos

Rosey Hunter
Rosey Hunter, Executive Director of University Neighborhood Partners, introduced Part II of the symposium: “Local Knowledge.” To demonstrate the connections all those in attendance had with the Jordan River, she had the audience stand to identify their reasons for attending the Symposium. The first question was, “Who lives in the Jordan River sector on the Westside?” A few people stood up. Hunter then asked, “Who works or owns a business on the Westside?” A few more stood up. The third question was “Who is here for an academic purpose related to the Westside?” Many more stood. The last question was, “Who uses the Jordan River for recreation?” Almost everyone else in attendance rose. Emphasizing the value of Local Knowledge, Hunter remarked that all those in attendance are stakeholders in the Jordan River. She also addressed the importance of creating “neutral spaces for process.”
By Jason Joy

Andrew Gruber
Andrew Gruber, Executive Director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, presented the “Wasatch Choice for 2040” plan. Land use, transportation and green infrastructure were the major issues tackled in the plan. The projection of rapid population growth in the Wasatch Front is a major concern and necessary steps need to be taken in preparation for the increased stress on resources and infrastructure. Gruber emphasized the potential effects on traffic congestion, air pollution, and the loss of critical open and agricultural space.

The Wasatch Front cannot sustain the current rate of growth in the area. Focusing on town centers with accessible transportation and green infrastructure can help to relieve some of the future stressors on the current system. Smaller home sizes and walkable communities will provide more options for lifestyle and transportation. Gruber noted benefits of developing this manner: it reduces costs, lowers taxes, saves billions of dollars of construction, reduces traffic, prevents air pollution, and helps to protect open and agricultural space. The “2040” document outlines a Green Infrastructure Network plan which includes working lands, hydrological areas, recreation areas, and community and cultural lands. Designing the network entails creating a forum to discuss issues, identifying green infrastructure assets, creating a network map, and identifying steps for implementation.

Gruber emphasized that conservation needs to be involved in the entire development of the plan. The plan needs to have ecological benefits as well as social benefits including preservation of historic sites, improved tourism and recreation, and a strong connection to nature.
By Amita Janwalkar

Alan Matheson
Alan Matheson, Executive Director of Envision Utah, presented the research led by Envision Utah that informed the development Blueprint Jordan River. In his presentation, he mentioned challenges, ideas, and opportunities pertaining to future development along the Jordan River.
The challenges mentioned were in regard to the channelization of the river and Envision Utah’s goal to restore the river to a more natural state. Additionally, the river cuts through 18 different jurisdictions. This poses difficulties when meeting goals and requires that all participants be focused on the greater good of the Jordan River, instead of solely focused on the issues that pertain solely to their local area. Matheson also discussed the results of public surveys administered by Envision Utah during the Blueprint process. Public input centered on establishing natural preserves, providing recreational amenities, and facilitating urban renewal.Armed with information gathered during the Blueprint process, he believes that improving and rehabilitating wetlands, connecting communities through the river, and implementing a buffer to better contain the river are all possible future development opportunities along the river.
By Edgar Rios

Maria Garciaz
Maria Garciaz, Executive Director of NeighborWorks Salt Lake, took a public narrative approach when discussing the Jordan River and the West Side neighborhoods it touches. NeighborWorks SL is a private non-profit entity, which opened its doors in 1977 and has served the Westside since 1982. Garciaz began with the story of self, the story of Maria Garciaz, who used to play and fish in the Jordan River with her siblings because they were not allowed, as children of color, to swim in public swimming pools. After recounting her own personal experiences with the river, she moved onto the story of us.
The Jordan River runs through six neighborhoods, each of them have their own characteristics, but all sharing an identity with the river. Looking at these neighborhoods and their relationship makes it is possible to identify larger community assets centered on the river. The Glendale neighborhood has the Education Center and the International Peace Gardens. In Poplar Grove the Fisher Mansion is identified. The Utah State Fairgrounds and the Northwest Recreation Center anchor Fair Park. Jordan Meadows and Rose Park neighborhoods share the Day Riverside Library and EcoGarden. Finally, the Westpointe neighborhood is home to the Sports Complex. Garciaz identified resident engagement as a key element to executing the Blueprint Jordan River (produced under the leadership of Envision Utah). Facilitating collaboration of the owners of individual parcels that touch the Jordan River can have a high impact on the success of the green corridor identified in the Blueprint.

Bringing the attendees into the present, Garciaz recounted the story of now. The West Side is one of the most diverse communities in Salt Lake. The residents work extremely hard and are committed to numerous local causes. Defending their neighborhood is what they often like best about where they live. For the future of the river she told another story, a story of the future West Side residents. These residents will be able to “swim the Jordan River not because they have to, but because they want to.”
By Flo Fregona

Corey Rushton
Corey Rushton, Councilman and Jordan River Commissioner, introduced and described the function and purpose of the newly-organized Jordan River Commission. The commission has been organized and endowed with the singular purpose of implementing the plans set forth in Blueprint Jordan River created by Envision Utah. To realize this goal, the Jordan River Commission needs to address several issues simultaneously. It will need to provide legitimacy to the Blueprint document; allow for community involvement; flex some form of political muscle; provide expertise on preserving the riverfront; set-up a review authority to facilitate uniform development in accordance with the stated goals; respect the sovereignty of each of the municipalities that surround the river from beginning to end; and provide an outlet for local taxes collected as a part of each municipality’s commitment to realizing the blueprint.

The hope is to organize the commission as it grows into a 1/3 – 2/3 model. 2/3 of the commission will be populated by individuals who represent government agencies in one form or another. The bigger hope is to encourage members of the public and private business owners to participate as “ex-officio” members of the commission and provide a necessary balance to the arms of government. There are many such positions available still on the commission. As a final summary of what the commission hopes to achieve, Mr. Rushton shared three important steps: Implement the Blueprint Jordan River ideas; secure funding for the programs and projects that described in the blueprint; and develop a uniform review policy and procedure that will aid each municipality to meet the recommendations outlined in the blueprint. The Jordan River Commission should be a “one-stop-shop” for all development along the Jordan River corridor.
By Carl Greene

Brenda Scheer
Brenda Scheer concluded the Riverscape Symposium with a brief history of the Salt Lake Valley. She took attendees back to a time before the pioneers had settled the valley, recounting how Brigham Young hiked to the top of Ensign Peak, gazed over the valley, and saw a river that would become a foundation to Salt Lake City. The Jordan River had always been central to the settlement of the valley. The river gave way to the railroads, which in turn gave way to 1-15. Scheer noted that throughout time, our feelings about nature have evolved. Our ideas changed from “nature to be feared” to “nature to be nurtured.” She emphasized two points that should be followed in planning for the future of the river. First, Scheer explained, the green infrastructure needs to be conceived first. Secondly, cities change over time, offering unique natural and manmade places that should be nurtured and emphasized. To make the river an important asset again, she highlighted some of the key points from the earlier speakers: we need to have a common vision, we need patience, and we need to be champions. Scheer concluded that we all can become heroes by dedicating our lives to carrying out a plan and just getting it done.
By Morgan Thompson

Reawakened Beauty: Tillman Cranes’ Photographs of the Jordan River Exhibit
By Megan Clark
The “Reawakened Beauty” exhibition was displayed behind the audience seating. It was organized into long linear cloth panels that spread along the back wall of the gymnasium at the Northwest Community Center where the symposium took place. All of the photos were taken by Tillman Cranes. As his website maintains, Cranes is “a large format photographer specializing in platinum prints. Artist, teacher and photojournalist, Cranes has been professionally involved with photography for over 30 years. Known for his beautiful, luminescent prints of the quiet corners in life that most of us simply pass by, his images pull us in for a closer look. Whether the subject is man-made or God-made, each contains a quality of light and detail that provides both a sense of the ‘real’ and that of spirit” (www.tillmancrane). Along with the beautiful photos by Cranes is information about the river by Dr. Ty Harrison who has been teaching students at Westminster College about the Jordan Rivers ecosystem for years.

The photography exhibit begins with photos of the journey of the river from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake. In between photos, Dr. Ty Harrison poses questions about the role of the river and what it should become. He asks what the river looked like before people settled in the area. He also whether the river should become a habitat for birds and native marshlands or for a growing human population. The combination of the words and the photos provoke an inner realization as to how beautiful and simplistic the river is. The photos express all the aspects of the river that are loved most: the nature, and what a river should be in actuality, a place of refuge. The medium of black-and-white photography creates a dramatic and lovely portrait of the river in all of its simplicity. All together, the exhibit was educational and posed questions necessary to contemplate with regards to the river’s future.