A Demographic, Socioeconomic and Socio-political Evaluation of Salt Lake City

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Salt Lake is the largest city in Utah, one of the major cities in the Western United States. Its population is roughly 183,000, a great increase from the few hundreds that initially settled the valley near the Great Salt Lake in the Mid-1800s. Although the city was initially settled by a single group of immigrants seeking to avoid religious persecution (the Latter-Day Saints), the good mining jobs and, more recently, financial and custodial jobs have attracted a much more diverse population.  The mountains of the Wasatch Front are well known for having ‘the greatest snow on earth’, and the canyons are home to many ski resorts and lodges, thus attracting a high number of foreign visitors annually.  Since Salt Lake City is on a direct path between many East and West coast destinations, Salt Lake was, at the height of the settlement of the West Coast, ‘the crossroads of the west’, a middle-marker on the journey to the Pacific. This gave rise to a population of manual labourers who came to work on railroads or in mines.  The abundance of tourists coming to ski in the Rocky Mountains has led to numerous resorts in the mountains, creating a demand for custodial and maintenance jobs.  Salt Lake is also known to be the centre for Industrial Banking in the U.S.  As with any other city, an increase in high-class jobs creates economic niches in which lower-class workers fit; custodial, transportation, education and lower-level services.

        Salt Lake today has a fairly busy metropolitan area, complete with skyscrapers and its own light-rail train system.  The area is not nearly as centred around the LDS faith as it may seem. The biggest factor that still signifies their presence is the grid system of the streets; almost all roads in the city were laid out in a north-south/east-west pattern around the central two blocks that are still reserved for church use.  The population is now much more diverse; from its beginnings of all Mormons, it has developed a population of which over 40% is of another faith.  Salt Lake is also a very modern, area; the light rail ‘Trax’ train system is more environment-friendly and cost-efficient than regular railways; Salt Lake is one of the biggest producers of computers and computer software technology; medical care in Salt Lake is among the best available in the nation; there are chain restaurants and stores aplenty in addition to the local-ethnic eateries and businesses, a trait typical of more developed urban areas.  

        Salt Lake does exhibit some unique characteristics.  The grid system is predominant throughout the entire valley, with variations only where natural landscape or private ownership interfere (with the exception of entirely-residential areas of suburbs).  The streets of the downtown area were originally built with room for a horse and carriage to turn completely around, in foresight of a time when the extra space would be needed.  In the suburban areas, it’s not hard at all to find an LDS chapel, while the congregational buildings of such religions as Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Jewish, Masonic, and even Islamic, are scarce, becoming more concentrated near the downtown area.  

        Developers have begun to buy large areas of land in the Salt Lake Valley because the area has been officially recognized as undervalued. These developments are much more uniform and sterile in design, and yet are harder to navigate than the well-organized streets of downtown.  They try to recreate the kind of neighbourhoods that cover the Avenues on Utah’s Capitol Hill, or those in Oakland near San Francisco, by having about five different models of houses with minimal changes in the architecture and different materials on the outside to create an appearance of diversity.  Daybreak and Suncrest Communities are the two best examples; there are about five to ten developers, each with five or six different house plans.  The result is a neighbourhood that looks colourful and diverse at first glance, but much more uniform when it bears closer inspection.  Many neighbourhoods are in the ‘American Dream’ layout; one house on every quarter-acre lot, separated by fences, driveways in front, power lines underground. There are still some more historical-looking homes in the older district of the Avenues, one of the originally settled residential areas, East of Downtown and South of the Capitol Building.  This area tends to have more true diversity; houses build at different times and by different people to different specifications, making it much more varied.  Also, in a few places, the driveways remain in back alleyways that lead up through the middle of a block, a much more historically common arrangement.  

        The Downtown area has flourished in recent years, due to the high economic activity in the area.  Basic survival is more of a challenging need to meet in a place with extreme seasons; dry heat in the summer and icy cold in the winter.  Utah is largely unsettled, but expansion to the empty regions is becoming popular as technology allows people to live farther away from mainstream society.  Since land is often cheap in Utah, inhabitants have a tendency to purchase extravagances such as large cars and SUVs (which accommodate the high level of urban sprawl), boats and expensive snow sports gear.  Such a commotion on the consumer end of the market warrants equivalent activity on the end of banks and corporations.  Apart from hotels and LDS Church offices, banks dominate the skyline of the Downtown area.  Not only is Utah the largest centre of Industrial Banking in the Nation, Utahans also maintain the highest national rate of bankruptcies.



        The population of Salt Lake City is an estimated 182,670.  The population of the suburbs is almost eight times that number, giving the entire Salt Lake Valley a population of nearly two million.  There is a lower density of people in the inner city itself, especially the downtown area, because most of the people who work in the city live in the suburbs; Sandy, West and South Jordan, Midvale, Draper, Murray, Riverton, Holiday and Taylorsville. The bulk of the population living in the city is more dispersed near the central downtown area and more concentrated around the edges.  There are concentrations of people in the residential areas to the west, northeast and southeast of the downtown area; the districts known as Glendale, Rose Park, the Avenues and Sugarhouse. The Avenues is one of the first areas settled as a distinctive neighbourhood, rather than a general, progressing area, as is the original downtown area. The houses in the Avenues are close-packed and the streets are narrow, much more the in the style of old East-coast American neighbourhoods. There are hardly any new developments within the borders of the city, with the exception of a few concentrated in the largely undeveloped western wing.  Most homes in the city are either older, small houses like the ones in the avenues, or large and costly modern homes in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains that enclose the east side of the valley. Not only are these areas are harder to develop due to their location, but they’re also more expensive for the view and location, and lots are larger.  This gives the foothill area a relatively low population density.  The foothill area is actually a fairly narrow strip of land that is not too steep or remote to access, but still above the inversion and general calamity of the more densely populated areas directly beneath it.  The foothill area extends outside of the Salt Lake City borders all the way past Holliday and through Sandy and Draper.  

        Because of the wide valley full of open land to settle, Salt Lake Valley has seen a lot of urban sprawl, especially in the last decade, with developers moving in to the south quarters to build planned neighbourhoods.  The high level of pollution in the valley is due to the fact that most people who work in the city live in the suburbs, and therefore have somewhat of a long transit to make to go to their place of employment every day.  Salt Lake's relative youth has allowed most of the valley to be developed with automobile transit in mind, making trans-valley commutes a reasonable idea. Because of this, Salt Lake Valley is one of the most heavily polluted areas in the United States; the layer of inverted smog is often visible in the distant end of the valley, or when seen from the top of a canyon.  The high level of development of the city and suburbs has also caused a sharp decline in the native plant life in the area.  

        Immigration to Salt Lake has seen an upswing in growth recently as SLC becomes a more established place where businesses can take root and afford cheap land for office space. The mining jobs at the west end of the valley, where Kennecott Copper Mine is situated, have historically attracted many people. Along with the building of railroads, the copper mine is one of the largest factors contributing to the increased percentage of non-Mormon inhabitants in the valley. From the time it was opened in 1863 through the 1920s, the mine has brought upwards of 15, 000 people into the valley for work. The largest contemporary factor in attracting new population is the high concentration of businesses that require a higher level of education, such as computer technology and medical care, and menial jobs to go along with the facilities appropriated for the above occupations, such as janitorial services and day-care.

        It is projected that, as the population grows (probably more from immigration than natural increase, as a 2005 reality report stated that Utah’s land was undervalued at 23 percent), the downtown area will become less densely populated that it already is, due to the large, cheap lots for sale in the south and west end of the valley.  Commute to the city is becoming less and less of an obstacle, meaning that people are more able to choose where they live. This is makes the light rail train project, Trax, which aims to ease long distance commutes along the urban corridor, an especially relevant one in the valley.    Gated communities at the south and west ends of the valley, extending even into the mountains, have become increasingly popular; the land is cheap and the commute is not a problem, again due to urban sprawl, or, more recently, to the ability to work from home. The new Trax train system aims to reduce pollution by bringing people into the city from all across the valley using energy-efficient mass transit. There are plans to extend certain lines of the Trax as far as the Provo-Orem end of the urban corridor.

        Because of the way the LDS church grew and developed, receiving virtually all new members from European countries, Salt Lake has historically had an unusually high percentage of Caucasian inhabitants. Even when railway and mining jobs began to bring in new population, the Caucasian dominance hardly declined at all. Recently, as mentioned above, Salt Lake has become a profitable area for businesses in computers and other technological-based services. This contributes to an increased percentage of skilled workers from Japan, China and India, among other places. As in many other parts of the United States, lower class jobs such as janitorial services, gardening and construction have attracted a high number of Latin-American immigrant workers.

        The age structure of Salt Lake shows an unusual bulge in the 25-34 year old age group (Map/Chart Reference; I. Population of Salt Lake City by Age). This may be attributed to the aforementioned attractiveness of Salt Lake City to new businesses in technology-related fields, which require skilled workers. Skilled workers often are selected from the latest generation to enter the workforce, those who are mature, yet still young enough to have been brought up with the skills and applications of the newest technological advances. Specific to Salt Lake City, as opposed to its suburbs, is the fact that young couples without a family would be more prone to live in the city for reasons of accessibility, and later relocate to a suburb to raise a family.

Another bulge in population occurs around the 10-20 year old age group, indicating a high amount of live-at-home young adults. (Map/Chart Reference; I. Population of Salt Lake City by Age)

        Salt Lake's people have always been faced with several environmental problems, the most common of which are due to the extremes of weather. The recently-ended drought is one such problem, and the other is extremes of cold, both of which tend to kill of significant amounts of crops intended for sale in the City. Fortunately, because of its historical role as middle-man between the Eastern and Western United States, Salt Lake is fairly well connected and would thus be fairly well provided-for in the event of a major halt in local food production. Another natural hazard that has yet to manifest itself is a major earthquake. Salt Lake is situated directly above the Wasatch Fault line, so an earthquake is all but inevitable. The fault line stretches south near the base of the Wasatch mountains, coinciding generally with the border between developed land and steep mountain terrain. Relatively few structures in the City and the Valley were constructed with an earthquake in mind, making the area very susceptible to the oncoming disaster. An earthquake could potentially disrupt all major points of entry into the valley, effectively cutting the area off from any imported goods or services. Immediate issues would be food and gasoline, which are imported daily. Since little agriculture is still practiced within the valley, people in the city and its suburbs would be temporarily dependant on stored goods until lines of transportation could be re-opened.

        The population distribution of the city and the valley has historically followed a ripple-effect of concentration; beginning with a relatively large concentration of people in the centre of the community, the outer limits have been expanded as outlying land is developed, and population tends to move outward in concentric rings where new development has become established, depleting the central population slightly. Each new 'ring' of development can have more land area than the previous one, even if its radius is the same. This is well suited to the exceptionally high growth rate experienced in the area. In the last seven years, however, Salt Lake's suburbs have apparently begun expanding faster than the population is growing; Salt Lake is loosing population, while suburb population is growing rapidly.

        Salt Lake's population is currently growing much faster than even a high Natural Increase Rate would dictate (there is a high increase rate, due probably to historical farming and to a high percentage of Christians). Migration is a large factor in the growth of both the city and its suburbs, which are expanding at appropriately rapid rates as well. Referring to an ethnic-distribution census, it is obvious that an increasing number of immigrants to the valley are Latino or East Asian. Unlike most major cities, especially on the eastern seaboard, there is not a strong minority of Africans and African-Americans, due to the fact that the valley was settled by an entirely Caucasian population. In fact, the black ethnic group accounts for only three percent of the population, as opposed to places like Baltimore, MA (65% African/Afro-American) or Atlanta, GA (59%). (Map/Chart reference; IV. Ethnic/Racial Makeup of Salt Lake City)

        Health care in Salt Lake is among the most developed available in U.S. population centres. Two large health-related organisations, Intermountain Health Care and the University of Utah Hospital, both base their operations in Salt Lake, specializing in treatment and research, respectively . Large donations from private persons have given both facilities a high level of technology for both study and application. Facilities for births and care of the elderly are at a high rate in comparison to many places even within the United States and Europe. In fact, the area has the nation's fourth-largest concentration of biomedical firms, many of which are associated with one of the aforementioned services. The Natural Increase Rate in Salt Lake has been one of the nation's highest in the past. (Map/Chart Reference; II. Population Statistics)

        From its origins in pure primary-sector economic activity, Salt Lake's development has been prompted by the migration of those who sought to make Salt Lake a midpoint/rest stop on the way from East to West. The Transcontinental Railroad plans put the line straight above the city, prompting construction jobs as the structures reached farther towards each other. Along with construction came mining, something previously practised only for granite or for minimal amounts of metals in the eastern mountains. Excavation on the western edge of the valley brought a high amount of business with the outside world, driving Salt Lake's economy higher than ever before. Eventually, when the higher levels of development began to sprawl outward from the central city, new economic niches were created and the economy thus grew even more. By today, the city has become a centre for Industrial Banking, which is the process by which commercial corporations grant loans to companies as a bank would, something which has been banned in all but six other states. Personal banks also abound in the business district, as do centres for research, study and technological manufacturing. Cheap and abundant land makes Salt Lake attractive to take-off businesses that need headquarters near a population centre to cater to and through which to keep contact with the developed world.

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Cultural Patterns and Processes

        Cultural values in Salt Lake are heavily reliant on Christian models and more specifically on the LDS Church's standards for members. Even many of the people who are of other faiths conform to many Mormon standards simply because they thus fit better into the community. Salt Lake has some of the lowest nation-wide rates of alcohol and tobacco consumption, and the lowest number of deaths caused by these. Political views tend to be extremely conservative and Republican-oriented, including such things as being against same-sex marriage and abortion. Salt Lake County has not collectively voted ...

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