Heart of Salt Lake City beating strong, says Becker

Mayor says his progressive "Livability Agenda" pumps downtown's "vibrant heart."
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Salt Lake City has a vibrant heartbeat, an active brain, sturdy muscle and an enduring soul.

Comparing Utah's capital city to the human body, Mayor Ralph Becker said Tuesday evening in the annual "State of the City" address, that Salt Lake City can "look forward to a bright future with a prognosis of good health."

"We are charging into the 21st century with optimism and anticipation of great things to come," Becker said.

Like most such speeches, Becker was short on specifics and reviewed recent accomplishments more than outlining future initiatives.

Nonetheless, it was clear that Becker will continue to pursue progressive programs that he has labeled his "Livability Agenda."

It focuses on environment, transportation and recreation that, in turn, would bolster Salt Lake City as a regional center for business, science, education and the arts.

The mayor pointed to the opening of City Creek Center shopping, business and residential project as evidence of a "vibrant heart" downtown. Beyond that, he said, 40 new shops and restaurants have opened in the past year. And Salt Lake City is becoming more cosmopolitan.

"Thanks to a burgeoning residential population, new businesses and flourishing event venues, the nighttime streets of downtown are filling more and more with patrons enjoying our city."

Next month, Becker will unveil the design for new Utah Performing Arts Center to be built on Main Street. By July or August, police and fire departments will move into the public safety building nearing completion east of Library Plaza.

Key to Salt Lake City's success is its transportation – or circulatory – system, Becker said, continuing his human body metaphor.

"By the end of 2013, we will have witnessed the largest expansion of an urban rail system in the nation," he said, referring to a new TRAX line to the airport, a commuter rail line to Utah County and a planned streetcar line in Sugar House.

Becker also emphasized bicycle and pedestrian lanes and walkways in Salt Lake City's transportation system that he said could become a model for the nation.

Education and entrepreneurship are Salt Lake City's brain, the mayor said. The city boasts the University of Utah, Westminster College, Salt Lake Community College, and LDS Business College, among others.

Those institutions provide education for city residents, the mayor said, but also serve as incubators for entrepreneurs.

"Not only has the University of Utah joined the big leagues with PAC 12 membership, but we've seen the university emerge as one of the nation's top two institutions for start-up businesses."

The mayor paid homage to the city's settlers, saying that Salt Lakers "have always proven to be a strong, enterprising people."

That continues today, he said, through the development of neighborhood commercial centers – something he has championed, along with neighborhood pubs.

Becker also talked about the health of residents and a short reference to the city's air quality. But in a briefing before the speech, the mayor said, "Our air quality is simply unacceptable."

The mayor said his administration has focused on getting people out of their cars, shifting the city fleet to natural gas and designing "net zero" municipal buildings to cut down on emissions. But the city can only go so far, he said, referring to the Utah Legislature that has refused go beyond federal pollution guidelines.

Finally, Becker pointed to what he termed an intangible, the soul of the city, that he said keeps Salt Lakers working toward a bright future.

"I look forward to the coming months and years with you to help Salt Lake City be the model of a healthy, vibrant, livable, great American city."

City Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa applauded the mayor's address, particularly the part where he said he wanted to work more closely with the council in the coming year.

"It gives me hope that the city government will be even more responsive to residents that we have in the past," he said.