<== Site of the Week for 2006-04-10 ==>
Even with a generous stream of out migration, Utah's high birth rate means that Utah's population will continue to surge in the decades ahead. Utah's population is projected to boom from 1.7 million people to 2.7 million people by 2020 (think crowds). Envision Utah is an organization dedicated to planning for this growth and how to protect our shared resources.
Envision Utah is a primary source for community planning along the Wasatch Front. The site has articles on the challenges facing the state as population growth continues to tax the air quality, limited water supplies and roads along the Wasatch Front. Computer models and the experience of other large cities show that simply building more roads is not the answer. Adding new layers of suburban sprawl simply increases commuter miles without decreasing bottlenecks. The traffic jams in the burbs are often worse than those downtown.
The best path to follow is to make central commericial districts more pedestrian friendly and to create more alternatives to long commutes.
One of the primary concerns of Envision Utah is zoning. Envision Utah realizes that zoning has been one of the biggest obstacles to intelligent growth. Current zoning laws were designed to help property owners protect the value of their property by keeping out undesirable things like industry and bars.
Sadly, low income families sit among the undesirable things that residents want to keep away. The result is that zoning laws tend to prevent the development of high density housing in towns. Utah is left with a comedic situation where the high density housing gets built in unincorporated areas outside town. This forces the poor in the boondocks to pay outrageous commuting bills to get to work...effectively locking them in their poverty.
The middle class doesn't fare well either. The lack of multiunit housing in town often results in young families trying to buy a house before they have the financial stability to buy a house. This leads to Utah's legendary bankruptcy rates and a high divorce rate as families fracture when they try to stretch their finances around a mortgage.
The best example of the negative effects of zoning occurred in the Salt Lake Valley. The population of Salt Lake City shrank dramatically from the 70s through 2000. While the population of unincorporated areas in Salt Lake County boomed beyond the ability of the infrastructure to support the growth. The reason for this absurd development was that strict zoning laws in Salt Lake City prevented the contruction of high density housing.
Driving through Salt Lake, you will see a large number of boarded up shops. This is due in part to the gutting of the population by zoning laws designed to prevent the development of high density housing.
Driving along the Wasatch Front, you will generally find that the high density housing was build out in farms where there was inadequate infrastructure for the housing, leading to a different set of concerns.
In my opinion Envision Utah is headed in the right direction by looking at the growth needs of the entire Wasatch Front. The entire stretch from Ogden to Provo has similar concerns of air quality, crowded roads and housing concerns.
As for the Envision Utah web site. The site has great information...the information is trapped inside bulky PDF files which are not quite as easy for reading online as HTML. Interestingly, you will notice many of the PDFs are served from ftp.envisionutah.org. I find it interesting that a zoning board would confuse internet protocols and serve HTTP:// documents from the extension reserved for FTP://.