We agree with Salt Lake Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who in her annual State of the City address Tuesday night reflected a note of optimism. The state’s capital city is indeed on the threshold of unprecedented and exciting changes. 

Soon, the city may well be once again the center of the sporting world as the host of the Winter Olympics in 2034. It may well be the home of a new major league baseball team, and perhaps even a National Hockey League team. It is the heart of a metropolitan area that remains among the nation’s fastest growing, and it is home to cutting-edge businesses that are leading the way to technological innovations.

The mayor delivered her speech in the grand lobby of the Eccles Theater. The location is a symbol of the city’s growth and possibilities.

And yet a city is sterile and joyless without the squeals and boundless energy of children. 

Of all the things Mendenhall spoke about Tuesday — and there were many, including plans for a “Green Loop” that would encircle the city’s core with open space — the most important of all was her announced goal of bringing families back into the downtown area.

The mayor gets it. America’s largest cities are becoming havens for young, childless and single adults. In order to thrive, cities need the type of diversity that includes all ages, and that caters to and celebrates its rising generation. It needs churches, schools and parks filled with people of all ages.

“The reality is that in any growing city in this nation, if the city government isn’t deeply involved in making sure families can thrive, they will be built out,” Mendenhall said, adding that the city needs “more child care. More family-sized housing. More places for families to play.”

This, she said, was the No. 1 thing she wants her administration to build — a downtown that can be home to all ages, from children to parents and grandparents.

The mayor spoke of starting a loan program designed to help child care businesses, of urging the city council to adjust zoning codes to allow such businesses, and to focus the city’s redevelopment agency on family opportunities for city owned properties.

This includes more “micro parks” with play equipment and other things in the “Green Loop” that would attract kids and people of all ages.

“Building families back into our city is something every one of us should all rally around,” Mendenhall said.

Indeed, it is.

2024 state of Salt Lake City: Pioneering inclusive growth and urban innovation

And yet, doing this will not be easy. The United States, like most of the world, is experiencing a decline in childbirth. Even in Utah, the birthrate is now 42.4% lower than it was 50 years ago. Many families with children prefer suburban homes. A Pew Research Center survey found that 57% of Americans said they preferred to live in large, detached houses, even if that meant amenities such as shopping and schools were farther away. It may take more than day care to lure them downtown, but it’s a worthy goal.

Mendenhall’s speech focused on many other things. She sent a clear message that she wants the Utah Jazz to stay downtown, and that future teams should play there, as well. She spoke at length about the need to do more for the city’s growing homeless population, urging state lawmakers to approve Gov. Spencer Cox’s funding request for more mental and behavioral health services and shelters.

She reiterated that homelessness is a statewide problem, not a city problem alone. 

The truth is that, as Salt Lake City and its surrounding metropolitan area continue to grow at an impressive pace, the challenges will grow along with the opportunities. It is an exciting time for the Wasatch Front — a time of transition into a major population center that can begin to define itself in deliberate ways to the outside world. But it’s also a time for careful planning and deliberate actions.

As the mayor said, what city leaders do today will shape the course of the city and state for many decades to come.

We applaud Mendenhall for grasping the moment and its importance, but especially for seeing that a city’s core cannot thrive to its full potential without the families that are raising its next generation.