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May 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
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City Creek . . . from page 1

Fortunately, one of the elements originally proposed for the bridge, an electric walkway, was eliminated during the design process. This was partly as a result of its expense, but mostly because of public ridicule. I stood there grateful for the community pressure placed on the project’s owners, pressure that helped guide the design and development team to make better choices.

Community pressure didn’t stop the City Creek Center Bridge from being built.|0| According to co-developer The Taubman Company, not allowing the bridge would be a “deal killer” for the entire project. Permitting sky bridges downtown was written out of the city’s zoning ordinance in 1995. The decision followed a heated debate eight years earlier when Zion’s Securities Corporation attempted to build a bridge across First South at Regent Street to connect the ZCMI Mall to the Regent Street Parking structure.

Permission to build that bridge came only after a prolonged battle with community activists, a battle I led at that time and would bring forward again with the City Creek proposal. It was solely the result of an epiphany by Zion’s Securities’ CEO Kent Money about the potential the bridge had to scar the city that it was never constructed. If it had been, it would have been torn down to make way for City Creek Center.

My objection to sky bridges is because of their potential to disrupt the social life of the street, undermine the role of the street in our democracy, and create two-tiered societies -- what might be called first-class and second-class citizens.

In 2002, during my tenure as the city’s planning director, I attended confidential meetings about the future of Nordstrom in Crossroads Mall. That ill-conceived and even more horribly designed mall was dying, and along with the fear of losing market share to malls south of the city, people were worried that Nordstrom would leave town and take with it part of the community’s self esteem. In response, and much to the entertainment of my friend and boss Rocky Anderson, I engaged two of the city’s finest architects to draw a simple schematic plan showing how the Crossroads and ZCMI blocks might become mixed-use blocks that could bring 24-hour life back to the heart of the city.|1-3|

I took the drawings to the Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church who graciously listened to the reasons why such a proposal might hold Nordstrom’s interest in staying downtown. About a year after leaving my position as planning director I learned that Bishop H. David Burton was actually interested in moving forward with the idea. The power of a short stack of drawings to feed ideas is emblematic of the power of visual literacy.

That a mixed-use neighborhood has been reborn on these two blocks is evidence of hope and evolution in our city despite any other shortcomings of the City Creek Center project.|4|

Ironically the City Creek Center Bridge may be the most notable and meaningful part of the entire mixed-use complex.|5| The bridge’s structure frames what we’ve lost and reminds us to remember what matters most to us; our connection to place. Within the bridge the historic photos show a different ballet on Main Street.|6| They reveal the way our city and its streets held its parades, fed our social space, supported our democracy.There is a richness and wisdom of the street in these images, qualities that are clear and visible in the old black-and-white, low-resolution photographs. One can hear the street if one listens closely to what they see in these old photos. Sadly, when I stood in the bridge and looked east and west there was nothing that drew me in. Tiffany’s doesn’t work for me, and the artificiality of the manufactured creek with its captive trout in Ph-balanced water drowns my spirits.|7| I prefer the City Creek that flows through Memory Grove, and streets and sidewalks etched with decades of stories.

But for the voices of residents and some city planning commissioners, and a few planning staff members, the project would never have reached its few, but important levels of excellence. Some fine craftsmanship can be seen on the surfaces of this new temple of consumption, but craftsmanship is perhaps the high-water mark of the entire project.|8| It is a tribute to the men and women in the trades whose hands and care for excellence invites the oohs and ahs of those who naively believe that a gilded lily is still a lily. Stonecutters and masons, metal workers and engineers show their stuff at City Creek Center. The flow of consumers wanting to buy local gold at Tiffany’s, crafted by out-of-state craftspeople will be seasonal. Ebbing in January and flowing again with the Mother’s Day thaw, their claim on Rio Tinto’s Kennecott byproducts will transform love into money and money into love. We would be better served to find our local craftspeople crafting our local gold.

We would also be better served if more local restaurateurs had found their rightful place in the capital city’s new palace of consumption. Consuming “first class” fare from McDonalds, The Cheesecake Factory, Subway, and Chick-fil-A while not the only options in the food court is a menu for ridicule when addressing the authenticity of a place.|9| Those who recall the near-magical attraction of the old ZCMI bakery still have sense-memory of those cold days when a warm piece of bread and a healthy spread of Beehive State honey was a step away from the sidewalk.|10|

The few entrances into City Creek Center from the street are all too reminiscent of the controlled entrances of their predecessors.|11| In the early 20th century the eight block faces that comprise the circumference of City Creek Center held as many as 100 entrances to shops, banks, offices, restaurants and theaters. Now we have maybe 20. At the mall’s primary entrances the count is a mere eight. In a horrible lack of oversight, the stairwell entrance from West Temple, north of Nordstrom, a stairway to nowhere ended in a fence, requiring me to descend the staircase and attempt the ascension again.|12|

The control as one enters the Center is also marked by clear signage reminding us how to be civil and describing the consequences if our civility is suspect. Once one enters, the citizen is now the visitor in a private place and, as noted by the directories at each entrance, “…management reserves the right to prohibit any activity or conduct which is detrimental to or inconsistent with a first-class, family oriented shopping center.”|13| Taken to its extreme, a grandparent living in one of the first-class towers whose grandkids run and yell (running and yelling are listed as prohibited) during a stroll to the Disney Store would be both consistent and inconsistent with a first-class family place. As our community works toward understanding the diversity of use that mixed-use developments attract, we will one day reconcile this confusion of place.

Just as planning experts promised when they built the Crossroads Mall, that it would help all of downtown, so too with the planning and development experts who promoted City Creek Center. While the intelligence of mixed-use found its way into the project this time, the same formula to reduce spillover into the surrounding downtown and capture market share within the new mall is at play again. Though the Salt Lake Planning Commission insisted on a few more access points to promote some spillover, it's insufficient at a project of this scale. Few people understood the impact this project will have on downtown retail for perhaps the next 20 years. The street-front footage of the mall's retail facades is the equivalent of eight blocks. In other words, two levels of retail on the Nordstrom block is the same as having retail on both sides of Main Street from South Temple to Second South. Add in the Macy's side of the mall and its two floors and we have the equivalent of retail on both sides of Main from Second South to Third South, then up both sides of Third South between Main and State Streets. The vital downtown of the 1930s through the mid-1970s comprised this same mile of retail. Yes, City Creek Center’s retail facades comprise roughly one mile of street retail.

My view from the bridge left me wanting more of what I saw in the old photos there.|14| This is not a romantic or nostalgic longing for something missed, but a desire for that grit of a street that speaks to its humanity, its honesty, to its first-class democracy. These are the kinds of streets that can’t be designed by any one person with an architectural firm. They evolve from thousands of unique gestures, over many years and decades, with stories etched into the street itself.

Confusion of place is evidenced wherever I walk within and around this could-have-been-great place. A clear line is drawn between public and private where City Creek Center meets the city sidewalk. The line is literally cast in bronze.|15| The porous line that blurs and separates public from private space is of greatest concern. The democracy of the street is threatened with these obfuscations, and we should be vigilant as we watch for the insidious grafting of the most important vessels of our city, its sidewalks and streets, the vessels that connect us all.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Along the Green Line
Daniel Everett at the UMFA

Travel should change your vision. So should an art exhibit. When the two combine, well . . . life is good. I recently spent time in Cyprus, a trip that serendipitously served as a fruitful primer for the Daniel Everett exhibit now up at the UMFA.

Cyprus is a 3500 square-mile island in the eastern Mediterranean, south of Turkey and west of Syria. It has seen thousands of years of conquest and occupation, each civilization leaving its mark on the island. During our recent trip, a kind host showed us marvelous examples of Greco-Roman mosaics in ancient cities with magnificent views of the sea, beautiful sandstone cathedrals erected by Italian traders, and a vertiginous crusader fortress built on the top of a craggy peak. But the visuals that stuck equally in my mind, and prepared me to better appreciate Everett’s work, were of architecture from the past thirty years.

Everett is a young professor of art at Brigham Young University. His work (principally photography, but also video and installation) frames the type of anonymous, mundane architecture that subtly designates liminal spaces.|1| In his works, humans are visually absent, but the implication of the human is always present and charges the works with subtle but powerful connotations. The door of a chainlink fence, hung on the wall like a painting, is more than just another example of a readymade: it is the symbol of delineated space, something that separates the public from the private, the child in the backyard from the dangers of the street, the mailman from the dog, one neighbor from another.|2| His "Antenna I/Antenna II" appears to be identical, monochromatic photographs of radio towers perched atop a grid-facaded building.|3-4| Closer inspection reveals that between the two shots a slight shift in perspective has occurred. The radio waves coming in and out of that tower are present but invisible, as is the viewer implied by the slight shift in perspective. " Ascension III," a video piece, is equally void of people, though it depicts an airport terminal through which thousands of travelers pass every day.|5| The video consists of a few frames of a hallway at the Salt Lake airport, put on a continuous loop so that the hallway extends ad infinitum as a Kafkaesque taunt to any jet-lagged traveler who has trudged down anonymous corridors looking for passport control and baggage claim after a 20-hour journey.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, Cyprus briefly came under British control before finally achieving independence in 1960. The treaty that established the country insured the island, which has a majority Greek and minority Turk population, would not become part of greater Greece. When a decade later the majority Greeks pushed for unification, Turkey, one of the treaty’s guarantors, invaded the north. Greek Cypriots fled to the south, and the Turk populations from those areas were pushed north, so that what were formerly mixed villages, anchored by both churches and mosques, soon became ethnically homogeneous municipalities. A border -- a United Nations buffer zone known as The Green Line -- now separates the island.

Southern Cyprus never joined Greece, but it has since become part of the European Union. By contrast, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is a political entity recognized only by Turkey. The economic disparity is evident to anyone who crosses from one side to the other. Traveling across the north’s Massaoria plain, I was struck by two architectural features. One was the habit of the Cypriots to build modest, one-floor cement houses, with rods of rebar sticking up through the flat roofs – anticipation of the second story that will come with better times. This modest approach may have been learned from the other architectural feature that caught my eye. The flatlands of this fairly mountainous island are spotted with the empty shells of half-finished buildings, wind blowing through one example after another of two floors of poured concrete joined by a lonely concrete stairwell.

These “buildings” came to mind when I saw Everett’s “Tower II,” a seemingly absurdist photograph of a parking lot that is home to two glass-encased stairwells to nowhere.|6| In her exhibition catalogue curator Jill Dawsey gives the game away when she explains that the tower in the photograph does have a use – the leader of the BYU marching band climbs up there during rehearsals. In the photograph, though, Everett duplicates the building, emphasizing the absurd mystery of a seemingly out-of-place edifice. The stairwell is a central element in architecture, joining -- rather than dividing -- one space to another. A stairwell to nothing, then, is a particularly melancholy sight.

Everett’s interest in the ambiguity of architecture is evidenced by other pieces in the exhibition, most prominently a set of three photographs entitled "Monument I," "Monument II" and "Monument III." Each photograph features a simple piece of banal architecture. Small, white, windowed boxes, these are the type of portable, covered buildings that serve as checkpoints and security booths.|7| In our country they might readily call to mind the entrance to a construction site or a security booth at a parking lot. For a Cypriot the connotations would be more powerful. And more personal.

Armed guard stations, barbed wire and ghost towns still mark Cyprus's Green Line, but since 2003 the border has been "open," allowing vehicle and foot traffic to pass through the 112-mile border's seven crossing points. For a tourist, passing the borders can be a minor inconvenience. At stations that look very much like Everett's "Monument I,"|8| you must show your passport. You must also have Euros for the south and Turkish Lira for the north, and passing the border you have to pay a duty on any items worth more than $200 (though this is circumvented by shopowners who will provide you with a fake receipt for any high ticket items). For the Cypriots, though, that demarcation of space represented by the small white shack can be anything but easy.

One example. A Danish woman who has been in Cyprus for fifteen years lives within a mile of Famagusta, an enchanting city surrounded by a medieval wall, dotted with old churches and home to a number of fine restaurants. But because she is married to a Greek Cypriot, and because Famagusta lies just north of the Green Line, she has been only once. On that trip her husband visited his childhood home. Though the Turk Cypriot family that has lived there since his family fled in 1974 was kind enough to give him the box they had kept full of items his family had left behind, he has never been back.

Of course our own country is not immune to troubles. As Jill Dawsey explains, the building in "Monument II," which sits atop a crane,|0| was photographed in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a culturally mixed neighborhood that was home to a riot in the 1990s. At home or abroad, the small, anonymous buildings that appear in Everett's work can symbolizes broad and deep human stories.

Everett's images are powerful precisely because they show so little. Context can change everything. An observation tower can be used to view birds or control crowds. A radio tower can be used to blast the latest pop sensation. Or it can be used to communicate with invading fighter jets. A building like "Monument I" might make you feel safer parking your car in a large city, or it might remind you of the stolen birthright that lies only a mile across the border.

Daniel Everett, Monument II, 2011, inkjet print, courtesy the artist
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