Living as a Flâneur

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Most of my memories of Salt Lake City take place on 400 S. This was the street we would often drive through when I was a kid, before I went to the University of Utah. It is the street where the Salt Lake City Public Library (SLCPL) is, and I would spend a lot of time there when my mother would work in Art of the Main, the art gallery in the library. In 2008 during the Presidential campaign, we would visit the Democratic Party headquarters located in a building just off 400 S. When my church, Wasatch Hills Seventh-Day Adventist Church, would have their Inter-City Outreach (ICOR) program hand out clothing and other essentials to the homeless, they would do so at Pioneer Park, right along 400 S. And every day, when I commute to the University of Utah on Trax, the train drives up along 400 S. The street is synonymous with Salt Lake City to me, so naturally I chose to observe 400 S.

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I practiced being a flâneur today by taking a stroll down 400 S. along the entire distance it spans downtown Salt Lake City. Rather than ride the train all the way home from the University of Utah, I chose instead to get off at the 900 E. stop and walk to Pioneer Park before turning around and getting on the train at the Courthouse stop. The day was somewhat hot, but the sidewalk is shaded for a good portion. Trees line the walk for a significant portion of the street.

The street is clearly a street for cars. There are three lanes for cars in both directions. I did not ever see a bike path, even though I saw a number of bikers who often chose to ride on the sidewalk. The most pedestrian-friendly aspect of the street I saw prior to intersection with 500 E. was a crossing guard at the intersection with 800 S. (there are no schools nearby to my knowledge, so the crossing guard must be there solely for pedestrians). Otherwise, the walk is rather dull, and not very inviting to pedestrians.

I do believe that pedestrians would like more investment in space for them along 400 S. There are a number of attractions, particularly restaurants, for people to enjoy. I remember a few weeks ago I was on the street with my girlfriend Jasmin and her 5-year-old sister, Jade. We wanted to eat ice cream from Baskin Robins, and since the ice cream parlor was so tiny, we chose to eat outside. We had to settle for sitting on a tiny grass spot by the road; there were no other accommodations nearby. On my stroll today, I did see people making due with the small grassy spots nearby restaurants, which are not the most inviting spaces and leaves one feeling awkward. I did see outdoor seating at some restaurants on the other side of the street, such as Starbucks and Jimmy John’s. But prior to Salt Lake Coffee Break, the closest attempt to providing outdoor space for pedestrians was Café Rio, which appeared to have been added as an afterthought and doesn’t make for pleasant space at all.


The street is clearly a street for cars.

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As I continued my walk, I eventually reached Salt Lake Coffee Break. This was the most pleasant space for pedestrians I had reached, at 430 E. (more than half the distance between where I began my stroll and State Street, a significant distance). There were tables for people to lounge and socialize over a cup of coffee. I actually decided that I wanted to relax here, so I went into the coffee shop, bought a cheese Danish and a Turkish coffee (which I had never had before). It’s a pleasant coffee shop, and I like the atmosphere. I went outside, popped open an umbrella, and ate and drank. (Turkish coffee is terrible and I regret my decision. It’s as pleasant as drinking flavored mud. I do not recommend it.)

After my brief stop, I continued along my stroll. Salt Lake Brewing Company is not far from Salt Lake Coffee Break, and has inviting open socializing space as well. A little further and I reached the SLCPL. This may be the most pedestrian-friendly location along the entire street. Once there, I felt drawn in to the library and the surrounding park and plaza. I broke from my stroll on the street to explore the library grounds. There’s lots of space for pedestrians to enjoy, even tables in the plaza. This is not too surprising, though; I have been to the Utah Arts Festival before, when the entire library grounds and half of the City Hall grounds are used, with booths of art everywhere. Pedestrians rule then. While the excitement of the UAF wasn’t there today, I still found the place pleasant and inviting. I even walked up the wall’s stairs (which appear to be poorly maintained, unfortunately; weeds are growing through the cracks) to the top of the library, where I enjoyed the view of the city and the comfort of the library’s rooftop garden.


I enjoyed taking photos here.

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I took the library’s elevator to the main floor and return to the street. While the library grounds are very inviting, the people are… sketchy. The people who are on the library grounds are homeless loiterers or otherwise are… strange. The library train stop is the most uncomfortable one I have ever waited at, due to the people there, almost all of whom I have to doubt their mental state. Even in the library I have seen strange things that I will not mention. This aspect of the library is the biggest turnoff to the space.

After the library is City Hall. I have been on the grounds during the UAF, when they are very different. Otherwise, I haven’t been there, so today was the first time I saw them in their typical state. City Hall is a beautiful building, and I marvel at its Victorian architecture. The surrounding area may be the most relaxing along the street, a pristine park, well maintained. I enjoyed taking photos here.


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After the City Hall comes the courthouses and State Street. State Street is lined by some of Salt Lake City’s most impressive buildings, but they are further north. Mostly the area is surrounded by courthouses, from the Matheson courthouse to the new US District Courthouse, an iron fortress looming over the surrounding area. Minor stores line the street between the district courthouse and Pioneer Park.

Pioneer Park is a sketchy place. Immediately upon entering the area, someone, likely on drugs, asked me for fifty cents. It is cleaner than I remember, and I saw a place for trapeze lessons and someone actually practicing, which was cool to watch. But the west end of the park is filled with the homeless, drug addicts, and people who otherwise are down on their luck. For instance, today I took pictures of the people lounging in the area. As I was waiting to cross to the other side of the street, a man came over and confronted me, asking me why I was taking pictures. Something was clearly wrong with him. I caught a glimpse of his tongue; there was a white, almost chalky substance, covering it. I acted nonchalant and unconcerned, telling him I took pictures because I wanted to. He said I made people paranoid and left. I showed no emotions or concern, but truth be told I was frightened. He was capable of just about anything. (I wasn’t too shocked that something like that happened; I figured that just about anything was possible at Pioneer Park.) Afterwards, I crossed the street, walked to the Courthouse train station, and rode the red line home. My stroll was complete.


400 S. could be a very nice street for pedestrians. There are a number of attractions along the way, particularly restaurants. Sacrificing a lane in each direction could create more space for pedestrians. There are no bike lanes on 400 S. yet I saw a number of bikers, and I’m sure there would be more if bike lanes were created. The sidewalks could also be expanded and the restaurants, coffee shops, community centers, bars, and street vendors could be encouraged to use the space. I didn’t see many pedestrians along the street, but perhaps they would come if they only had a reason for coming.

I would stroll for the sake of strolling, making for a great experience for a flâneur. 

I think that if 400 S. were made more pedestrian friendly, Salt Lake City could experience a transformation. It would be a very hip place to be, with possibly a very fun nightlife. I wouldn’t walk the street simply because of a class assignment. I would stroll for the sake of strolling, making for a great experience for a flâneur.

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