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Street Smarts 

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Given a choice of routes for traveling east or west across Salt Lake City, any aesthetically minded individual would choose 300 South over 400 South. Who wants a glimpse of two separate Burger King marquees, along with a bevy of other fast-food-franchise signs?

Thanks to a recent change in zoning by the Salt Lake City Council, those who care about conscientious urban planning can anticipate welcome, albeit slow, change along 400 South. By creating a transit-oriented development zone that opens up the possibility of taller residential structures along that corridor, Salt Lake City made an important step in the right direction. If done right, and if developers respond in kind, the rezone could engender a more urban feel where more people can get more done in less time'all of it downtown. More of us will use public transportation. And it’s about time. And even his detractors should thank Mayor Rocky Anderson for his efforts in making this change.

Conservatives and free-market developers loathe left-leaning crusaders who in turn loathe urban sprawl. But the only decent argument sprawl developers have is the mass of people willing to brave two or more hours of commutes to and from work just so they can own a house with large swathes of front and back lawn. Everyone’s free to spend as much time in their cars as they wish, true. But it’s beyond question that the current hallmark of American life results in a diminished quality of life that robs us of time and pollutes our air. Some critics even claim sprawl not only makes us physically ill by enforcing a more auto-dependent, sedentary living. They also claim it deprives us emotionally and psychologically by robbing us of community ethos. When’s the last time you said hello to a suburban neighbor?

Past director of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources at the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., Joel S. Hirschhorn observed many developments firsthand before writing Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money.

“You can certainly choose to ignore sprawl, but it will not ignore you,” Hirschhorn states. Hirschhorn provides hard evidence that an increasing number of Americans want housing choices beyond sprawl’s virtual monopoly of real-estate choices.

In her book What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World, M.L. Rossi tells Americans what the rest of the world knows about our way of life. “In most of the world, periphery neighborhoods that ring the city are the least desirable places to live. In North America, the suburbs were marketed as the place to be. And many Americans live there, requiring that to go to work, to the store or the bank, they have to drive their car. That design flaw alone has made the United States both vulnerable and defensive: We rely on foreign oil, we pollute the air, we get fat'and we don’t want to change.

We can already see the first signs of welcome change near 400 South. A robust-size apartment complex at 500 East between 300 and 400 South is set to open soon, complete with ground-level shops. The Shop ’N’ Go at 365 S. 900 East is a treasure trove of Indian and Pakistani food items. And let’s not forget the corridor’s crown jewel, the Salt Lake City Main Library.

Smarter urban planning doesn’t come easy. Recall the vehemence of opposition to UTA’s TRAX light rail? One rezone is far from victory over sprawl. Those who care about the “city” in Salt Lake City would do well to keep up pressure for more such changes.

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