Andres Duany Applauds The Mormon Grid

Joseph Smith an Unsung Hero of City Planning

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Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, is not a name that planners and urbanists usually think of in the same category as Daniel Burnham or Pierre L'Enfant. But Smith made a significant and historic contribution to American urban planning with the plat of Zion, a grid system with perfect north-south and east-west streets divided into standard distances (read more). Based on Biblical principles, the plat of Zion imposed structure and order on rugged Western landscapes, explains Duany, and in the process they inaugurated and sustained over five hundred successful cities, towns, and agricultural villages in just the fifty years from 1855 to 1905.

As new urbanists prepare to descend on Salt Lake City, Duany and other new urbanists have expressed reverence for the sustainable and sensible nature of these early Mormon town plans. Speaking with USA Today last year, Duany suggested that in order to prepare for the future, one has to "translate the past." He highlights the prescient planning practices of Mormon settlers in the 19th century, stating: "The Mormons were always transcending the present. That's how they made something out of nothing."

But the Mormons' contribution to urban planning is more than streets. The Mormon Block is also a unique seedbed for what Duany has termed "Agrarian Urbanism." From the beginning, the Mormon block was meant to include jointly-farmed agriculture in the center of the block ("a farm for every family").

Author, urbanist, and founder of "The Original Green" sustainability initiative Steve Mouzon also finds great promise in the sustainability of the Mormon grid. "Urbanism in most places and at most times has been built compactly, limiting opportunities for food to be grown in cities," said Mouzon. " The Mormon Block presents a rare opportunity to do things we can't normally even consider, including very robust agrarian urbanism."

Salt Lake City residents will have a rare chance to hear Duany and Mouzon speak at CNU 21, the annual gathering of new urbanists May 29th through June 1st at the Grand America Hotel. The pair will speak in a session called Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Block. Mouzon promises to tackle the Mormon Block's role as a model for Agrarian Urbanism as an antidote to industrial food production and distribution.

Other sessions at CNU 21 promise to keep the focus on local planning: "Engaging the Plat of Zion: A Jam Session" on Wednesday morning promises to get national new urbanists to apply their expertise to designing prototypical blocks and thoroughfares to build upon the Plat of Zion's strengths.

Find out more about CNU 21 here. You can listen to Duany talk about the Mormon Block here.