But another major difference — and one that is often overlooked — is the type of streets surrounding these spaces. Here are overhead views of the two places zoomed in to roughly the same distance.
The Salt Lake park is bigger — more on that later — so I could only get part of it in the picture. And the satelite image of the Vancouver park is a little hard to make out due to the angle.
But even with those limitations is astonishing how different the streets around these two parks are.
In Vancouver, the streets are three or four cars wide, including some street parking. These streets don’t feel particularly narrow and they’re not even that quiet, but they’re pleasant enough to walk along and aren’t off-putting to pedestrians. When you’re in the park, the streets also aren’t too loud or busy-feeling. Like a lot of things in cities, they just kind of blend into the background, which is good.
Now look at the Salt Lake streets. They’re appalling: seven lanes for traffic, along with lane-width shoulders. These are among the worst streets I have ever experienced on four continents and I don’t know how many cities and countries. They’re ugly, noisy, dangerous and absolutely crushing. Walking along these streets — something I do often due to where I live — is an utterly horrible experience. It’s like strolling along the shoulder of a major interstate.
And indeed I’ve been on freeways in cities much large than Salt Lake City that were smaller than these streets.
This, I think, is perhaps the park’s biggest problem. Even if we added as much good density and as many awesome destinations as Vancouver has those things would still be separated from Pioneer Park by an impassable car sewer. That means the Salt Lake City version would still be inferior. To see similar success, it’d therefore need to have more density, etc.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about adding more density to Salt Lake City and designing better buildings. That’s great.
But I’ve rarely heard anyone talk about fixing the streets. However, If we want to have better spaces in the city, we need to take that more fundamental (if harder to fix) problem more seriously.