SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – A recent study from the University of Toronto shows downtown Salt Lake City not only fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it may have also improved in terms of vitality.
According to the study, Salt Lake City peaked at a high of 155% of pre-pandemic activity levels during the spring of 2022 before settling at 135% in the fall. The high return to downtown following the pandemic outpaces other cities such as San Diego, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle and Denver.
The study examined mobile phone data containing user locations to directly measure downtown activity patterns. Data from pre-pandemic 2019 to November 2022 was examined in 62 downtown areas in order to gauge downtown recovery and vitality in the wake of COVID-19.
A look through the recovery rankings shows Salt Lake City starting with only 51% of pre-pandemic activity at the immediate start of the pandemic. The Utah capital steadily improved, reaching over 100% of pre-pandemic activity in the fall months of 2021. By December 2021, Salt Lake City had the highest percentage of activity compared to downtowns across North America at 122%.
So why did Salt Lake City recover so quickly and so well? Researchers suggest it could be in part due to size. It could also be because Salt Lake City was ahead of the curve by turning downtown into a multi-use recreational hub rather than just a center for business.
The study indicates that medium-sized downtowns recovered quicker than their larger counterparts. Cities that were reliant on professional or tech workers continue to struggle to reach pre-pandemic levels as the rise in remote work and layoffs within the tech industry have led to vacancies in office space.
Salt Lake City also has been championing a multi-use recreational and residential downtown. Salt Lake has been demolishing and renovating locations for residential use. Downtown Salt Lake is also the home of various festivals, such as the Twilight Concert Series, which continued to operate with COVID restrictions. The University of Toronto study even indicates Salt Lake City had a low number of days with required cancellation of all events compared to downtowns across North America.
Low transit time to get around Salt Lake City has also helped in downtown recovery. The study shows cities with a lower city-wide commute time on average experienced higher and better recovery, with the Utah capital nearly topping the list.
Researchers suggested some may need to follow Salt Lake City’s lead in being proactive about recreating downtowns for people by creating outdoor spaces with cultural events, rethinking streets for transit, bikes, and pedestrians and attracting diverse groups of the population to visit.