Imagine your life as it exists now. Waking up, walking the pooch in the morning, commuting to work, slugging through the day and coming home after stopping by the store on your way back. Now imagine it's the year 2050 and your sharing your little world with 2.5 million more Utahns that now call the Beehive State home. What's the air quality like with millions more wheels on the ground? Where we gonna put them all?-- a floating city on Utah Lake? Planners shed light on their vision of the future Thursday and argued the state can accommodate growth and preserve a quality of life to make the future more utopian than dystopian.---
Alan Matheson, Executive Director of Envision Utah and Andrew Gruber, Executive Director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council gave attendees of the Utah League of Women Voters a glimpse into the year 2050 at the organization's “State of the Community” luncheon program Thursday.
The conundrum they explained was sharing Utah's great quality life with future generations that will more than double the state's population by 2050. That growth means adding 1 million new jobs and creating a transportation infrastructure that gets everyone whey they need to go and hopefully doesn't add 2.5 million more cars to Utah streets. The key they argue is in planning that gives breathing room to the free market and that concentrates density around transit-oriented developments which in turn can still provide space for rural and agricultural neighborhoods elsewhere.
“We're not saying everyone has to live in a walkable mixed-use community and take the train,” Gruber said. “But if we encourage more growth to occur in centers in Salt Lake City or Ogden, or along the Frontrunner transit-oriented development then that creates the opportunities to preserve the character of existing suburban or rural communities.”
The men stated that along the Wasatch Front there are roughly 300 square miles of developable land, but those include open spaces and areas communities will want to preserve. Smarter growth they argue can preserve these spaces and make room for the next generation.
Matheson with Envision Utah pointed out that quality growth planning has already made incredible strides.
“In the mid '90s the projection was that by 2020 we would develop 700 square miles of land [on the Wasatch Front],” Matheson said. “Last year we looked at that projected by 2020 we would have developed 500 square miles of land--200 fewer square miles. Think about what that means for agriculture, for land preservation--for costs.”
Gruber pointed out Utah has spent the most per capita on transit than any other region in the country for the past decade or longer, but defends that transit spending for creating the “spine” of a network that will absorb all of Utah's growth in the decades to come.
Still some hard changes are in the future the men admitted. Water conservation will have to be prioritized. Transit-oriented development can help air quality but cleaner emission standards will have to apply to all from refineries to motorists. Gruber applauded local groups working to educate Utahns about how they can help improve air quality and singled out Breathe Utah as an organization that can help Utahns conserve and preserve the air we all breathe.
Daily commutes in the future will likely be 2-4 times as long in coming decades and while Utah's energy portfolio includes everything from solar to coal—but mostly coal—renewables should by 2040 be 20 percent of the portfolio.
Making sure Utah plans the future well won't be easy, especially when it means collaborating with numerous agencies, industries and conflicting political ideologies about private property, regulations and the role government.
Perhaps a little optimistically, Matheson said Utahns of all backgrounds, political stripes, and varied creeds and faiths can set aside differences to plan for the future because they all at least believe in one thing: family.
“That plays out across the spectrum,” Matheson said.
Photo courtesy Travel.Utah.Gov