The prospertiy of the United States following the second World War was unprecedented in the history of human civilization. Following the defeat of what many considered the final triumph of good vs. evil (Hitler, Natzism along with Japan and Italy) Americans became highly motivated to realize their individual pursuit of happiness. With seemingly unlimited space, the quickly growing middle-class was reproducing like never before and began spreading out all across the United States, especially in the West. President Eisenhower passed a measure to offer federal tax dollars for Intersate Highway construction. Once Interstate 15 and I-80 were completed, these highways made it possible for anyone with a car to live far away from the city and commute to work each day. Consequently, there was a dramatic population shift away from city centers to new suburburban developments.
Getting away from cities and into the suburbs was promoted by the United States Government through the The Regional Planning Association of America. These efforts were a part of New Deal, Great Society, propaganda designed to spread economic development in wider less concentrated areas. It was for fear of nuclear war, rioting and concentrated power that the Government couldn't easily regulate, that sustained this propaganda and sentiment of "city danger" for close to 40 years.
"The City" is arguably the quintessential portrayal of the sentiment of the era. "The City" is documentary film by legedary urban planner Lewis Mumford and filmmaker, New Deal Architect, Pare Lorentz. The film portrays the problems of congestion and sickness associated with high density city living. As a pre-WWII social document, the filmmakers made suburban life look like a utopian dream, and city life a nightmare.
The economic boom after WWII made the short-sighted propaganda of (cities bad, suburbs good) become a reality. These propaganda efforts were arguably the most effective forms of organized fascim ever in the United States. Suburban sprawl lead to downtown districts all over the United States to no longer be the center for social connectivity, outings or retail activity. This problem was exacerbated in Salt Lake City because of tax reform measures that put Salt Lake City in competition for tax revenue against the outlying suburban districts. Rather than recognizing Salt Lake City as the heart of the region, these measures forced the Salt Lake leaders to compete against the outlying suburbs for sales tax revenue to maintain roads, sidewalks and pedestrian access. The result was Salt Lake City's coffers were ran dry and city maintenance was neglected. Salt Lake City Planner, Doug Dansey said this was the worst political decision related to the future growth of Salt Lake City ever made.
"Its easy to look at those old pictures [of downtown Salt Lake City] from the fifties and wonder why that couldn't be maintained. The reason why it lasted as long as it did is because they were the only game in town"
The Rise of Suburban Malls & National Chains
In 1963 the Cottonwood Mall was the first mall built West of the Mississippi. This suburban mall offered shoppers an indoor, comfortable environment with ample parking. A great option for suburbanites, who no longer had a trolley going downtown and were forced to travel the distance to the Salt Lake City and find scarce parking. The Cottonwood Mall was built in Holladay, which is a southeast suburb of Salt Lake City.
The first mall was a huge hit with shoppers and subsequently more malls department chain stores were built the suburban areas around the city.
Valley Fair Mall was built in West Valley and Fashion Place Mall was built in Sandy. In the early sixties the first K-mart was introduced into the Salt Lake Valley on Parleys way. At this time municipalities began to form all around the suburbs of Salt Lake City. It was decided in the late fifties, according to Doug Dansey, that these municipalities, would create their own tax base and and no longer be incorporated into the Salt Lake City tax structure.
According to Dansy, this would be the most foolish decision city and state planners would ever make concerning the future growth and development of the Salt Lake Valley. Under this new structure municipalities began competing against each other for tax revenue. Rather than operating in a combined effort to support local business in and throughout the city, municipalities were competing against each other to attract national chain stores for the potential tax revenue they would provide. This revenue would offer municipalities more dollars for growth infrastructure and city projects. As more national chain stores entered the valley, all vying for the suburbanite shopping dollars, local merchants began to realize lower prophets from fewer customers.
(note: Recently this K-mart has been bought out by Wal-Mart and the Cottonwood Mall will soon become another outdoor mall)
In 1960 the most prominent business owners of the time including Richard Schubach of Standard Optical, Fred Auerbach, Eliot Wolfe of Wolf's Sporting Goods along with 10 other prominent local merchants, formed the Downtown Merchants Planning Association. Their vision was to maintain a pedestrian friendly city "built around people." This plan was called the Second Century Plan. Their hope was to maintain downtown as the financial,retail, cultural and religious heart of the area. Their foresight saw the problems that suburban sprawl could cause and they believed their alliance and vision would strengthen the city as the competition from suburban shopping centers began to become more fierce.
The Salt Lake city Retail Merchants Association, were responsible for drafting what became "the second-century plan."
Downtown Group: 'Dynamic'.
Behind the busy, bustling downtown scene there is a group of conscientious men, devoted to the furtherance of downtown shopping, both for the merchants and the general shopping public.
Throughout the sixties and early seventies, according to newspaper accounts (found below) these men would fight tooth and nail against Salt Lake City planners and Mayors, who were determined to counter the problem of lost retail dollars and tax revenue to suburban shopping malls with only one solution. To offer downtown shoppers the same retail trend of the suburbs: malls and national chain stores. While the malls were being built and realized, planers were also working on "beautification projects" That they believed would create and more pedestrian friendly downtown, offering wider sidewalks by removing already limited parking for the local merchants.
According to city planner Doug Dansie, malls and National Chain stores were the only way for downtown to have a chance of regaining its lost tax base. According to historian Alan Barnett-- these would be the worst decisions city planners could ever make, resulting in a city and population disconnected with their history and another nail in the coffin for local merchants. Watch the interviews below and you be the judge.