Salt Lake City’s TRAX light rail line, one of Salt Lake City’s many innovative transportation projects. Photo by Matt Johnson via Flickr.
Mayor Ralph Becker, a charter member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is turning Salt Lake City, UT into one of this nation’s most prosperous urban centers. And he’s doing it by building accessibility, sustainability and livability into many city policies.
Becker’s efforts are evident across Salt Lake City. He has spearheaded one of the most ambitious rail systems in the country, building new light rail, bus rapid transit, streetcar AND commuter rail systems. He’s also made the city accessible for all users by more than doubling the number of bike lanes, launching a bike share program and focusing on walkability and pedestrian safety.
In addition to his focus on transportation options, Becker has also moved to bring a higher focus on clean energy into Salt Lake City, working to make all city government buildings net-zero facilities. In July 2013, the City unveiled its new $125 million Public Safety Building, the largest publicly owned building to generate as much energy as it consumes.
Becker has extended these sustainability efforts to the city’s development codes, and led a ground-breaking initiative called SLC Green. Focusing on everything from air and water quality to mobility to community health and safety to open space, SLC Green works to incorporate sustainability provisions into city ordinances.
“We have changed over 100 ordinances,” says Becker, “and we have more to change, just to get out of our own way.”
All this work is being done in complement with Becker’s strong economic development agenda. Becker has focused on bringing new businesses—and local business, in particular—to the core of Salt Lake City. With a small business revolving loan fund and an entrepreneur incubation program, the city has been ranked in the top five cities attracting the biggest growth sector and the third best city for jobs by Forbes.
If you name a smart growth strategy, chances are Mayor Becker has done it. Yet he’s still ambitious. “To be successful, isn’t to focus on one or two projects,” he says, “It’s looking comprehensively at how the city functions. Everything we do centers around livability.”
Salt Lake City, with a population over 189,000, is surrounded by the Great Salt Lake to the northwest and the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges to the east and west. Its geographic beauty and access to recreation is only part of the draw to the city, which over the past several years has seen a recurring investment in creating a great downtown and a high quality of life.
“Strong and vibrant neighborhoods are the key to the entire quality of life in a community,” says Becker. “My hope is that the people who live in Salt Lake City continue to be happy with the health of their community and with the services and options that the city provides. My hope is that people around the country have the perception that Salt Lake City is a great place to live, work, and play.”