Nancy Monteith, Salt Lake City’s landscape architect, takes the long view of parks, urban trails, the cemetery, too
When you take in a Twilight Concert at Pioneer Park, do you stop to consider the placement of the trees, the open areas, and the pathways? Do you picture the Salt Lake City Cemetery as more than a graveyard? Maybe it’s a bird sanctuary, or a sweet retreat from the summer sun?
These are the possibilities Nancy Monteith plays with for a living. Nancy is Salt Lake City’s landscape architect. She works at a drafting table within the Division of Parks and Public Lands office. The way city parks look and feel–their vegetation, their open areas, even the best placement for public restrooms–fall under her job description.
She spends much of her work day living in the future—looking ahead to improve and extend urban trails, or to make the city’s parks more eco-conscious by adding drought-tolerant landscaping and encouraging wiser use of pesticides. She is not in this alone, of course. Nancy teams up on projects with urban foresters, planners, employees of RDA and transportation, the cemetery sexton and more.
Collaboration is essential because as Nancy puts it: “Interconnected parks and trails are really the result of interconnected city departments.”
Salt Lake City has been carving out and setting aside interconnected trails and parks for decades. The trail system is unique among many U.S. cities because it intentionally links so many spaces and surrounding neighborhoods. Earlier this year, the 2016 Urban Design Utah Legacy Award was presented to the city for the City Creek Canyon System, which connects City Creek Park, Memory Grove, and the Freedom Trail (which runs from the top of Memory Grove into City Creek Canyon and was built by high school students and Boy Scouts in 1984).
The award is sponsored by the Utah chapters of the American Institute of Architects, the American Planning Association, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the Congress for the New Urbanism.
“We didn’t apply for this award,” Nancy said. “The internal team of the Urban Design Committee keeps a running list of hallmark projects, and why they are remarkable.”
And what makes the City Creek Canyon trails remarkable is the combined emphasis on history, preservation and connecting open spaces. The award committee compared Salt Lake City with some of the best-known park systems in the country as a “model for connectivity,” along with Kansas City’s Greenway, Washington DC’s Rock Creek Park, and the Emerald Necklace in Boston.
“The more we can connect to these spaces and make them accessible, the more we make a true city. This is what makes Salt Lake City so special,” Nancy said.
Every park in the city has been, and continues to be an urban landscape project. Trees age out and need replacement. Needs and trends change. The city’s larger parks—Liberty and Pioneer are just two that come to mind—host various programs such as concerts and the weekly Farmers Market in the summer. Sight lines, public safety, and other issues all come into play when designing urban landscapes.
And then there is the cemetery. Established in 1847 on 120 acres in the Avenues neighborhood, the cemetery is the final resting site for 120,000 bodies. After 169 years, only about 10 years of burial space remains, Nancy said.
The city is obligated for perpetual care of the cemetery, but as space runs out questions about additional—but respectful—uses are surfacing.
“What is the future going to be for the cemetery? Will we add columbariums? Are there other ways to enhance it for wildlife habitat? What about limited recreational use, making sure we have the right fit? The cemetery has historic significance and ecological connections. The time is right for planning ahead for its future,” Nancy said.
A master plan for preserving the cemetery and extending its life is now in the works. The first open house to gather public comment about present and future uses for the space will be held Tuesday, June 14 from 4:30 to 7:30 at the Salt Lake City Downtown Library.
“I’m looking forward to what we find out,” Nancy said. “In a way, it is the biggest park we have. It provides a lot, and for a lot of people.”