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Health, Science & Environment

Urban Design Matters, U's Downtown Study Shows

If you’ve spent any time in the bustling heart of Salt Lake City anytime lately, it probably sounded lively and full of people, like Main Street during lunch hour. Compare that to the lone footsteps of a man walking just a few blocks away, behind the Salt Palace.

Reid Ewing is quantifying the difference between the two.

He’s a University of Utah professor of city and metropolitan planning whose team studied the qualities that make some city streets magnets for pedestrians. Reid says storefront windows and places to sit are key.

“Here’s a way to make Americans more physically active,” he says. “Create these wonderful, walk-able streets, and you will find more people out and walking.”

The researchers found the most pedestrians on Main Street in front of the City Creek Center Mall. And the fewest behind the Salt Palace Convention Center on 200 West. They compared that data with a tally of 20 qualities found along 179 street faces in Salt Lake City’s downtown, features that included courtyards, setbacks and trees along.

“All of these qualities are important,” Ewing says. “And they make the difference between a Main Street, with it’s 700 pedestrians in a half hour and 200 West with its handful of pedestrians in the same time period.”

Ewing says urban design elements like these affect economic vitality as well as quality of life. He says the Salt Lake City study is important because it is the first of its kind for the most common cities, which serve mid-sized communities.

The findings are reported in the Journal of Urban Design.

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