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All about Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City (often shortened to Salt Lake and abbreviated as SLC) is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Utah, as well as the seat of Salt Lake County, the most populous county in Utah. With a population of 199,723 in 2020, the city is the core of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, which has a population of 1,257,936 (as of the 2020 census). Salt Lake City is further situated within a larger metropolis known as the Salt Lake City–Ogden–Provo Combined Statistical Area, a corridor of contiguous urban and suburban development stretched along a 120-mile (190 km) segment of the Wasatch Front, comprising a population of 2,606,548 (as of 2018 estimates), making it the 22nd largest in the nation. It is also the central core of the larger of only two major urban areas located within the Great Basin (the other being Reno, Nevada).
Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 by early pioneer settlers, led by Brigham Young, who were seeking to escape persecution they had experienced while living farther east. The Mormon pioneers, as they would come to be known, entered a semi-arid valley and immediately began planning and building an extensive irrigation network which could feed the population and foster future growth. Salt Lake City’s street grid system is based on a standard compass grid plan, with the southeast corner of Temple Square (the area containing the Salt Lake Temple in downtown Salt Lake City) serving as the origin of the Salt Lake meridian. Owing to its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, the city was originally named Great Salt Lake City. In 1868, the word “Great” was dropped from the city’s name.
Immigration of international members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mining booms, and the construction of the first transcontinental railroad initially brought economic growth, and the city was nicknamed “The Crossroads of the West”. It was traversed by the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway, in 1913. Two major cross-country freeways, I-15 and I-80, now intersect in the city. The city also has a belt route, I-215.
Salt Lake City has developed a strong tourist industry based primarily on skiing and outdoor recreation. It hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. It is known for its politically liberal and diverse culture, which stands at contrast with the rest of the state’s conservative leanings. It is home to a significant LGBT community and hosts the annual Utah Pride Festival. It is the industrial banking center of the United States. Salt Lake City and the surrounding area are also the location of several institutions of higher education including the state’s flagship research school, the University of Utah.
Geography of Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City has an area of 110.4 square miles (286 km2) and an average elevation of 4,327 feet (1,319 m) above sea level. The lowest point within the boundaries of the city is 4,210 feet (1,280 m) near the Jordan River and the Great Salt Lake, and the highest is Grandview Peak, at 9,410 feet (2,868 m).
The city is in the northeast corner of the Salt Lake Valley surrounded by the Great Salt Lake to the northwest, the steep Wasatch Range to the east, and Oquirrh Mountains to the west. Its encircling mountains contain several narrow canyons, including City Creek, Emigration, Millcreek, and Parley’s which border the eastern city limits.
The burgeoning population of Salt Lake City and the surrounding metropolitan area, combined with its geographical situation, has led to air quality becoming a concern. The Great Basin is subject to strong temperature inversions during the winter, which trap pollutants and decrease the air quality. The Utah Division of Air Quality monitors air quality and issues alert for voluntary and mandatory actions when pollution exceeds federal safety standards. Protests have been held at the Utah State Capitol and Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation in the Utah State Legislature to make public transportation free during January and July, when air quality is usually at its worst. The population of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area is projected to double by 2040, putting further pressure on the region’s air quality.
The Great Salt Lake is separated from Salt Lake City by extensive marshlands and mudflats. The metabolic activities of bacteria in the lake result in a phenomenon known as “lake stink”, a scent reminiscent of foul poultry eggs, two to three times per year for a few hours. The Jordan River flows through the city and is a drainage of Utah Lake that empties into the Great Salt Lake.
The highest mountaintop visible from Salt Lake City is Twin Peaks, which reaches 11,330 feet (3,450 m). Twin Peaks is southeast of Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Range. The Wasatch Fault is found along the western base of the Wasatch and is considered at high risk of producing an earthquake as large as 7.5. Catastrophic damage is predicted in the event of an earthquake with major damage resulting from the liquefaction of the clay- and sand-based soil and the possible permanent flooding of portions of the city by the Great Salt Lake. On March 18, 2020, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake, the largest in the Salt Lake City area in modern times, hit Magna, just southwest of Salt Lake City, causing some minor damage throughout the valley.
The second-highest mountain range is the Oquirrhs, reaching a maximum height of 10,620 feet (3,237 m) at Flat Top. The east–west-oriented Traverse Mountains to the south extend to 6,000′ (1830m), nearly connecting the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains. The mountains near Salt Lake City are easily visible from the city and have sharp vertical relief caused by ancient earthquakes, with a maximum difference of 7,099 feet (2164 m) being achieved with the rise of Twin Peaks from the Salt Lake Valley floor.
The Salt Lake Valley floor is the ancient lakebed of Lake Bonneville, which existed at the end of the last ice age. Several Lake Bonneville shorelines can be distinctly seen as terraces on the foothills or benches of nearby mountains.
Salt Lake City Layout
The city, as well as the county, is laid out on a grid plan. Most major streets run very north-south and east-west. The grid’s origin is the southeast corner of Temple Square, the block containing the Salt Lake Temple; the north-south axis is Main Street; and the east-west axis is South Temple Street. Addresses are coordinates within the system (similar to latitude and longitude). Odd and even address numbering depends on the quadrant of the grid in which an address is located. The rule is: When traveling away from the grid center (Temple Square) or its axes (Main Street, South Temple Street), odd numbers will be on the left side of the street.
The streets are relatively wide due to the direction of Brigham Young, who wanted them wide enough to permit an ox-pulled wagon team to turn around without “resorting to profanity”. These wide streets and grid patterns are typical of other Mormon towns of the pioneer era throughout the West.
Though the nomenclature may initially confuse new arrivals and visitors, most consider the grid system an aid to navigation. Some streets have names, such as State Street, which would otherwise be known as 100 East. Other streets have honorary names, such as the western portion of 300 South, named “Adam Galvez Street” (for a local Marine corporal killed in action) or others honoring Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., César Chávez, Harvey Milk, and John Stockton. These honorary names appear only on street signs and cannot be used in postal addresses.
In the Avenues neighborhood, north-south streets are given letters of the alphabet, and east-west streets are numbered in 2.5-acre (1.0 ha) blocks, smaller than those in the rest of the city. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, planned the layout in the “Plat of the City of Zion” (intended as a template for Mormon towns wherever they might be built). In his plan, the city was to be developed into 135 10-acre (4.0 ha) lots. However, the blocks in Salt Lake City became irregular during the late 19th century when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lost authority over growth and before the adoption of zoning ordinances in the 1920s. The original 10-acre (4.0 ha) blocks allowed for large garden plots, and many were supplied with irrigation water from ditches that ran approximately where modern curbs and gutters would be laid. The original water supply was from City Creek. Subsequent development of water resources was from successively more southern streams flowing from the mountains east of the city. Some old irrigation ditches are still visible in the eastern suburbs or are still marked on maps, years after they were gone. There are still some canals that deliver water as required by water rights. Many lots, in Salt Lake City and surrounding areas, have irrigation water rights attached to them. Local water systems, in particular Salt Lake City Public Utilities, have a tendency to acquire or trade for these water rights. These can then be traded for culinary water rights to water imported into the valley. At its peak, irrigation in the valley comprised over one hundred distinct canal systems, many originating at the Jordan Narrows at the south end of the valley. Water and water rights were important in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As heavy agricultural usage changed into a more urban and suburban pattern, canal water companies were gradually replaced by culinary water systems.
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Kevin Mansouri is the the owner of Mortgage Solutions LLC, a small brokerage in Sandy, Utah. It has been Kevin’s honor to serve Utah as a lender over the past 21+ years. Being small means low overhead and great service. Being a broker means the most competitive rates at the lowest possible cost. The lender pays us a fee to do the loan… NOT YOU!
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