Seven Greenways Vision Plan

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Project Features

Put simply, the conditions of creeks that flow through wealthy neighborhoods should be the same as those that flow through lower-income neighborhoods. That is not the case in Salt Lake County. According to the Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool, many of the environmental justice parameters— particulate matter 2.5, ozone, traffic, Superfund sites, hazardous waste, and wastewater—are concentrated along western stretches of the creeks, particularly along the Interstate-15 corridor and west. Air quality is the Salt Lake Valley’s biggest environmental injustice. Atmospheric inversions cause acute air pollution days, and limit urban outdoor activity. Travel east to higher elevations and one can see the thick layer of pollution in the western part of the county. Additionally, the largest pollution emitters are located in west-side neighborhoods—factories, highways, and refineries. Western and central areas of Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, and western areas of Millcreek have higher concentrations of low-income households and people experiencing housing insecurity. Of the census tracts that border the western edge of the creek corridors, racial and ethnic minorities make up an average of 59% of the population.

This project advocates for equity, diversity and inclusion through its prioritization of improvements to the creek corridors and mobility connections to benefit public health and increase resources for underserved populations. It was important to hear directly from typically underrepresented populations what types of improvements they value and how to better connect them to water resources and quality nature experiences. Equitable and inclusive engagement through targeted outreach strategies and best practices such as Spanish language translation were a key aspect of this approach.

This project advances DEI by addressing two common criticisms of greenway creation: gentrification pressures and negative consequences for unhoused populations that rely on undeveloped areas for refuge. This plan centers their experiences and directs to research guiding greenway management and policy creation for fair and just treatment.


The Great Salt Lake was recently predicted to disappear in five years, which imperils ecosystems and exposes millions of people to toxic dust from the drying lakebed. This warning increases urgency for solutions in the face of the region’s megadrought. This is the first regional plan for upstream resources and focuses on the most populous and rapidly urbanizing area of Utah. The plan inspires shared aspirations for a 100-year vision to revitalize 129 miles of waterways and connect people through greenways flowing from the Wasatch Range.

Unity in approach and widespread support were key goals, as past spot-treatment projects have been piecemeal attempts that do not address complex challenges and interrelated issues. The plan creation process is celebrated as a model for collaborative solution-finding for large landscapes, including nine municipal partners and engagement of thousands of community members and technical experts. The Seven Greenways Vision plan represents hope, with actionable steps for climate resilience, improved wildlife habitat and water quality, connecting people to nature, and the enjoyment of water in an oasis on desert’s edge.


Creek Context and Significance

When you think of Utah snowcapped mountains you are probably thinking of the Wasatch Range. Yet its seven snowmelt-fed creeks that flow through what is now the most developed part of the state are hardly thought of at all. Red Butte, Emigration, Parleys, City, Mill, Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood Creeks, in total, extend 129 miles through eight municipalities and Salt Lake County. A rare haven in the arid mountain desert, Indigenous peoples once hunted, fished and gathered along the creeks. Early colonial settlers used the canyons as pathways to the Salt Lake Valley and water supply for industry and colonies. This development shaped the waterways. Creeks were channelized in an attempt to control flooding. Banks became steep and eroded. The water was polluted by industry’s tailings and other byproducts. The creeks became viewed as a nuisance and impediment to progress. This led to the burial of portions of creeks in the early 20th century.

Today, water is diverted from the creeks to supply more than 1.1 million consumers, with demand expected to exceed supply by 2040. Currently, 67% of the creek miles are identified to have impaired water quality and seasonal dewatering causes sections of creeks to run dry. Creek health is further challenged by severe drought, extreme flood events, record temperature rise, noxious plant species, and a host of encroaching development and human-use negative impacts.

Part of this plan’s efforts included providing public education about why the creeks are still worth protecting and enhancing. The project team calculated 114 acres of riparian habitat and 777 acres of wetlands are located within a quarter mile of the seven creeks. This is an important piece of the Central Flyway—a migratory bird path between South America and Canada. Over 257 bird species utilize these ecosystems estimated to include over 7.5 million birds. Tree cover and vegetation within the creek corridors are also significant to environmental health for these cities struggling to address some of the worst air quality in the Country and increasing temperature rise. Nearly 400,000 people live within one mile of the creeks. For the first time, regional maps of trails were assembled that inform about how two creek corridors have become significant recreation and mobility backbones for communities, while other previously planned trails could be linked across jurisdictional lines to provide connectivity. These environmental and community assets provide an exciting opportunity for improvement and stewardship.

A Shared Mission

The Seven Greenways Vision Plan acknowledges the collective impact of choices made by individual governmental entities in directing development and undertaking environmental improvements. Salt Lake County and eight municipalities signed on as partners for this study and provided matching funds. Regional, state, and federal agencies participated on project committees. The project landscape architect facilitated workshops with all entities to gain consensus on objectives and aspirations, identifying the pitfalls of past studies for smaller areas. A common concern was that individual projects are not positioned to make sizable improvements critical to environmental health and shift public sentiment to a culture of stewardship. Water quality and quantity, air quality, gentrification, and encampment management were just some of the pervasive topics that were discovered that large-scale reciprocal efforts would have the most sustainable success. In addition to a plan that uncovered actions for all partners, a 100-year planning horizon encouraged big ideas for sizable change.

Prior to this project, individual cities competed for small funding sources, causing insufficient funding to appear as the greatest impediment. This has changed with multi-jurisdictional projects described in this plan applying for exponentially larger grant funds. Their grant applications are viewed as top competitors because of their anticipated large impacts and this plan’s innovative equitable prioritization methods vet that environmental justice neighborhoods will benefit most.

Transferable Lessons for Large-Landscape Resource Conservation

This project represents a path forward for approaching water crisis and rapid urbanization of natural habitats. The depth of analysis for environmental, social/cultural, built-environment, economic, recreation, and ecological systems conducted in this study exemplifies the usefulness of the landscape architecture profession for synthesizing desperate data to inform decision-making. Map visualizations were an extremely useful tool for connecting ideas across geographies and made concepts relatable to individuals.

The plan document’s “toolbox” guides municipalities, land managers, and organizations in the creation of greenways, including design guidelines, best management practices, policy guidance, and funding source and suggested partners identification. Illustrations for the corridor design guidelines and best management practices fill a regional need for consistent communication of expectations for varying urban, neighborhood, green space, and canyon conditions. Much of the toolbox’s guidance is transferable to other arid mountain communities.

Overcoming Apathy

In this culture of strong private property rights and water rights, a community-supported framework is needed. The project landscape architect provided the partners with tools for public awareness building, convened environmental/ recreation/ community interest groups and experts, and used robust public engagement methods that garnered input from a broad-cross section of community members. Thousands of community members completed surveys to share their priorities and concerns. Targeted outreach methods ensured inclusion of underrepresented areas and Spanish-speaking populations. University students conducted community intercept surveys, organized around each municipality to promote equitable participation. A series of seminars and discussion groups engaged hundreds of subject experts and community members in dialog. Ideas developed by the project committee were evaluated by community members in pop-up events in parks and trailheads engaged approximately 300 people and an interactive online mapping tool was viewed by another 868 participants.

All of these efforts to understand public sentiments, educate, and create a community-driven plan paid-off, resulting in champions for implementation and low levels of opposition. All eight mayors endorsed the plan and the Cities and County adopted it as their own and incorporated findings into capital improvement budgets and revised city ordinances.

Big Ideas

The Salt Lake Valley is facing an exciting future—a connected system of greenways that celebrate water resources. The plan outlines goals, opportunity areas, and big ideas for each core element of ‘water’, ‘nature’, ‘community’, ‘recreation’, and ‘urban’. This includes the revitalization of streams, enhanced bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, catalyzed economic activity, increased climate resiliency, improved wildlife habitat, providing places for people to experience nature, and opportunities to learn about and enjoy the water. Parks, libraries, schools, golf courses, and public open space along the creeks are re-imaged as water and ecological resources. Public access to recreation areas along the creeks from transit, tailheads, civic and commercial spaces, and neighborhoods are discovered. Feasibility and benefits of daylighting of streams and expanding riparian areas are considered for opportunity areas.

To make the big ideas more tangible and actionable, twenty-one key opportunity areas are identified through land analysis and stakeholder input. Five transformative projects are illustrated with renderings and plan diagrams to imagine the possibilities. Accompanying them are lists of next steps for implementation.

Driving Outcomes and Community Impact

An implementation workshop with all key stakeholders provided a launching point for collaboration in applying the plan’s tools. Evidence that this Vision Plan is not sitting on a shelf is abundant in new funding dedication, site plans underway, and community actions. For example, in learning about the plan vision a developer became enthusiastic about ideas for his property along a creek. He revised his development application to introduce a public trail, benches, interpretive signage, and riparian restoration. Municipalities are seeking grant and tax funding to support plan implementation, with one city successful in the first six months by passing of a voter supported $86 million bond issue that will partially be directed to City Creek and Emigration Creek restoration projects. The Trust hosts an annual summer walk series to discuss the locations for the project ‘5 Big Ideas’ to keep the vision within the community’s focus.

Documents and Media

Planning Docs (if applicable):