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American Society of Landscape Architects


July 2004 Issue

Learning from Salt Lake
From theocratic plazas to oddball vernacular gardens, Salt Lake City offers a unique twist on the American Dream.

By Kim Sorvig

Learning from Salt Lake
Copyright Stephen Trimble,

Just above the Salt Lake Valley, where Emigration Canyon emerges from the Wasatch Range, lies a park named for America's most famous landscape quote—Mormon leader Brigham Young's "This is the place."

This Is The Place State Park consists of three memorials: a hulking stone and bronze monument to church leaders, its style as subtle as Soviet Realism; a simple tribute to unnamed "handcart pioneers," so ardent to reach The Place that they followed Young with their belongings in wheelbarrows; and a tiny white obelisk marking the actual location of Young's famous utterance, lost in beautiful scrub-oak groves. The official monument was relocated a couple hundred yards downhill, an earnest park employee explains, "for landscape reasons."

Landscape reasons underlie much of Salt Lake City, and a great way to enjoy this area is to look below the surface to the landscape's juxtapositions. The three This Is The Place memorials represent power, poverty, and place, each a force at work in this attempt at Western utopia. Both nonconformity and conservatism claim this landscape as their justification. Salt Lake is a marvelous venue for considering the complexities of the American Dream and its shape on the ground.

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