City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 9, 2017

April 7th

Filed under: Guardhouse gate, Horsechestnut, River birch — canopus56 @ 5:02 pm

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part IV – A New Preservation Force

2:00 p.m. A new approaching front has created overcast skies with the threat of snow tonight, but the air is flowing up canyon with warmth. The river birches below picnic site 3 are fruiting. What I had supposed were two or three inches long seeds bloom into a complex inflorescence of about thirty tiny flowers, each with ovary and stamens. At Guardhouse Gate and at picnic site 1, the horsechestnut tree buds have swelled, and several have exploded into five radially distributed ovaries. These mimic the circular pattern of the leaves that will fill these trees as they leaf in.

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In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 7th, 1854, he notes hazel trees blooming and finds the first sedge grass shoots. On April 7th, 1855, he see a large flock of goldfinches and sparrows. On April 7th, 1860, he sees a purple finch, and he sees many pickerel swimming in shallow water.

* * * *

The city has been changing its character in the last two years. After the 2007 arrival of new 240,000 acre feet of trans-basin Central Utah Project water, construction in the county has filled in most of the valley such that is now a familiar mimic of California. The older city center resisted with change. I was there in 1978 when a new form of government, a city council, took control from long standing commissioners. The new council was elected by a new generation of city residents from the 1960s who were concerned that development was destroy their tree-lined streets with apartment buildings. Over the years, those good intentions along with increasing economic inequality have transformed the city’s soul into a dark spirit of exclusionary zoning. The older Salt Lake City proper is a city of trees; its streets and boulevards lined with great seventy-year to one-hundred year old publicly-owned cottonwoods. This characteristic of the city along with the nearby City Creek canyon attracts biophiliacs, that is persons who love nature and the force of life, and it distinguishes the old city with surrounding modern suburbs that have fewer, smaller privately owned trees planted close to the walls of homes. But the darker side of Salt Lake resident’s spirits was revealed by community face-contorted hatred and opposition to re-constructing the capacity of an 1,200 existing homeless shelter for the poor. The result is that the city will reduce the capacity of existing shelters to around 800 persons. They opted for exclusionary zoning practices despite have received over $35 million in federal funding since 1978 to construct low income housing for both low-income renters and homeowners. Most of the benefits of the funds were streamed into homeowner only programs.

Commensurate with this cultural development and the aridity of region, two other forces are reshaping the city into a treeless city of gentrification, as has occurred in so many other western cities. First, in order to conserve the limited 240,000 acre feet of new water, the residents have allowed construction of many box-like apartment buildings and condominiums along its major roads and in its former industrial areas. A single family home requires about 1 acre foot of water per year, but apartments only need about one-tenth that amount. In order to accommodate developers, the buildings are constructed right up to the lot line and provide no space for the broad shade trees that so define the old city. The rents in these new apartments are beyond the wages of existing local residents. The second force is the arrival of internet-based short-term rental units that compete with hotels. A new bill was passed in the legislature that will take effect on May 2nd that will void an existing city ordinance that prohibits apartment and homeowners from participating in short-term rental sales. This statute was promoted by a conservative Utah legislator from the suburbs, again citing Mormon historical values of hyper-free-enterprise and Tenth Amended (March 20th) freedoms from governmental control. In other cities in the west and around the world, conversion of apartments to speculative individual internet-hotel rentals has doubled both a city’s rents and the number of its homeless persons. Yesterday, I met my first speculator, a woman who flew in from San Francisco, who has bought two condominium-rentals and was spending two days in Utah to outfit them as internet-based hotel rooms. She was returning to the west coast today to run her business remotely.

The result of these present decisions will transform the future city into into one in which a substantial portion of residents will be deprived of nature in their daily lives. In 1984, Nobel laureate Edward O. Wilson proposed a socio-biological theory – the biophilia hypothesis – that humans have an inherent genetic drive to seek out natural areas (Wilson 1984, Wilson 1993, Kellert 1993). Modern residential and commercial architecture with its planned unit developments and eco-certified construction have incorporated the theory by including natural areas and vistas in their design. But the new box-apartments of Salt Lake City do not, and this design feature of the multi-family buildings of future residents’ dwellings will foster a new increased utilization of close-by natural areas like City Creek Canyon and will result in increased political forces to assure the canyon’s future preservation.

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On April 7th, 1997, Tony Cannon, who logged 22,175 miles running in City Creek Canyon, passed away (Salt Lake Tribune). Cannon was a descendant of the Mormon advance party of 1847. The Tony Cannon Memorial Trails Foundation was formed (id). On April 7th, 1909, a movie company was scouting locations to shoot a film in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake Tribune April 8th, 1909). On April 7, 1919, University of Utah geology Prof. Fred J. Pack gives a lecture on the geology of Utah and describes how City Creek was carved out by the recession of Lake Bonneville (Salt Lake Herald).

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