Planning Through the Eyes of a Big City Mayor

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall joins the Planning Commission Podcast to talk about housing, street reconfiguration, and saving the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere.

3 minute read

June 29, 2023, 7:00 AM PDT

By Don Kostelec

The Planning Commission podcast title card with headshots of three hosts and guest

The Planning Commission Podcast / Planning Through the Eyes of a Mayor

If you’ve not followed what is going on in Salt Lake City, Utah, then you are missing out on what proactive leadership looks like. Erin Mendenhall, who first won election to the City Council in 2013 and ascended to the Mayor’s office after the 2019 election, is pushing housing reform, expanding the city’s green spaces, repurposing its massively-wide streets, and trying to figure out what to do with the shrinking Great Salt Lake.

“If you have not been to Salt Lake City, then you should shut this podcast off and come right now!” the 42-year old mother of three and former air quality activist told the Planning Commission Podcast.

Salt Lake City has seen the strongest post-pandemic recovery, in terms of downtown activity, of any other major city in the United States. “More people want to come here, especially after the pandemic. People want to be close to open space, trails, and five National Parks,” Mayor Mendenhall said.

These changes have led to the near doubling of downtown residential units, which could stand at nearly 10,000 people living in Salt Lake City’s core by 2025. While that growth is notably positive, it has not come without straining the local housing supply.

“We used to have housing demand coming from our kids, but now we have more in-migration along the Wasatch Front,” the Mayor said.

Salt Lake City was ready for this. Before the pandemic, the City started Thriving in Place SLC, which is a community-driven effort to analyze and understand gentrification, including the displacement that can occur as a result.

“We have 21 strategies to keep our community stable during this growth,” Mayor Mendenhall shared. “Where we cannot keep people in their current place there are strategies for helping them find new places within their community.”

The efforts haven’t stopped with housing. Salt Lake City is starting to realize the potential of its 132-foot wide streets as something other than a place to move vehicular traffic.

“One of the great things we can thank Brigham Young for is the tremendously wide streets,” said Mendenhall. “We have a Green Loop concept [to repurpose the streets] where we’ve pushed out vehicles to a single lane on both sides of the street, then added badminton, corn hole, a park, a concert stage and 190 trees in the median.”

Overall, the Green Loop plan would create 5.5 miles of repurposed streets, including 60 additional acres of parkland.

Mayor Mendenhall also discusses various other City initiatives, including water conservation efforts to help recharge the Great Salt Lake.

The Planning Commission is a spirited debate by planners, for planners. This independent outlet for all things planning explores the serious and lighter sides of the profession, poses probing and creative questions to guests, and always pairs the episode guest and topic with a choice libation. Listen to the podcast for a special offer from Planetizen.

Monday, June 26, 2023 in The Planning Commission Podcast

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