The Green Loop Pop-Up: Exploring the Possibilities of Gathering, Art and Nature Immersion in Downtown Salt Lake City

By Melissa Fields

“I want to be a science communicator, like a smaller version of Bill Nye [The Science Guy],” Kevin Arthofer says. “But I want to tell stories about the things that matter to me through art.” Arthofer is a furniture artist, founder of GROWdesigns, and creator of Aerial Ocean, an art installation on display now within downtown Salt Lake City’s Green Loop Pop-up Park, located on 200 East between 300 and 400 South now through June 10. After just one look at his series of 10 droplet-shaped benches, beautifully handcrafted from wood and steel, it’s obvious what matters to this hydrologist turned furniture artist: water. The point of Aerial Ocean, Arthofer explained, is to inspire people to sit and talk about water issues, like saving The Great Salt Lake. “I learned a long time ago that talking about the environment in a doom and gloom context just doesn’t work,” he says. “I want to create objects that inspire people to learn more and communicate more with one another, because I think the more we communicate with each other about these problems, the better the solutions will be.”

The Green Loop is, in fact, a potential solution born from lots of conversations. Community requests to create more park spaces in Salt Lake City led to the proposal of a linear park as part of its Downtown Rising plan in 2006. The idea—encircling downtown in green space by converting portions of 200 East, 900 South, 500 West, South Temple and North Temple into a continuous park—was reevaluated in 2016’s Downtown Plan and then included in the city’s Reimagine Nature parks and public lands plan, completed in 2022. “Salt Lake City has the state’s fastest growing population and the least amount of green space,” says Nancy Monteith, senior landscape architect for Salt Lake City Corporation. “It was determined in 2019 that to meet the appropriate level of park space in the city in relation to anticipated growth, we’d need to add 94 acres of park space citywide,” Monteith says.

Demand for land in downtown Salt Lake City is, however, high, which makes purchase of acreage for open space quite challenging. This seeded rethinking of land the city already owns: its uncharacteristically wide streets. (The average city street width is 50 feet; Salt Lake City’s span 130 feet.) Repurposing portions of downtown’s vast roadways as green space for walking, biking, gathering, play, art installations, etc. is ripe with potential: it could add up to 60 acres of public space to downtown on streets relatively underutilized by cars. “200 East [where the pop-up is currently located] is not particularly busy and has six lanes for traffic,” observed Monteith; the Green Loop could also help rescale downtown, furthering the intimate, personality-rich appeal found now in isolated pockets like Main Street and Edison Street Alleyway.

Change is not easy, of course, and so, with potential execution of the Green Loop still five to 10 years out, this spring’s Pop-up will provide downtown residents and visitors a glimpse into what a linear, mid-street park could look and feel like while also giving the multiple city departments that would ultimately be involved in executing the Green Loop a taste for what collaborating on the project would entail.
Salt Lake City Corporation tapped Tim Sullivan with the urban planning firm, Township + Range to come up with a design for the Pop-up. “We began with adding more than 180 trees to the street,” Sullivan says. “Nancy [Monteith] spearheaded this part, which was inspired by a moveable forest public art installation project held in the Netherlands last summer. Then T & R developed a layout for the space and zeroed in on the details.”

The result is a public space that checks all the boxes of modern park function: a badminton court and cornhole games that invite play and interaction; promotion of using alternative transportation to get there with scooter parking and bike racks; an upcycled shipping container to house concessions; and a leafy and protective barrier from the now slower-moving vehicular traffic on 200 East thanks to almost 200 potted trees. (Monteith promises the trees will be used elsewhere in Salt Lake City parks at the conclusion of the Pop-up.)

What’s more, the Green Loop Pop-up will host multiple special events and activities throughout its six-week activation. Food trucks from The Food Truck League will be stationed nearby on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Salt Lake City Public Library and Friends of the SLC Public Library will offer workshops, contests and a book sale. THE BLOCKS is presenting the Locally Played, Locally Made after-work concert series there on Wednesday evenings from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Little City and RoHa Brewing Project are hosting Saturday Evenings in the Park, a casual, all-ages gathering with live music, food trucks, and a beer/wine/cocktails garden every Saturday during the activation (except Memorial Day weekend) from 5 to 9:30 p.m.

The Green Loop Pop-up is not all about creating an active experience, however. Along with the trees, what gives this innovative open space its strongest appeal, at least for me, is the art. The project’s quieter south end is where Arthofer’s Aerial Ocean and “The Net,” a starburst sculpture by Dustin Swan (Made originally for the All-Star Weekend and then repainted a vibrant pink by Norbert Bueno for installation on the Pop-up.), have been located and surrounded by a portable, mini-forest, creating a little oasis of safety and even peacefulness, despite its center-of-the-street location. In other words, an easily accessible, much needed reprieve amid the hum of Salt Lake’s urban landscape.

WHEN YOU GO: Salt Lake City Corporation wants to hear about what every visitor to the Green Loop Pop-up thinks about this linear park concept. The best way to offer your feedback is by taking the quick Green Loop online survey.