In the 20 years from 1999 to 2019, the population of Utah has grown by nearly a million people. But unlike many states, Utah had a plan to cope, thanks to Envision Utah, a nonprofit that brings business, government and community leaders together to consider Utah’s future.
In 1997, group began hosting public meetings in order to develop a quality growth strategy for 10 counties along the Wasatch Front where most of Utah’s population lives. The Envision Utah Quality Growth Strategy and Technical Review, published in 2000, made predictions, but then also offered alternatives.
With a do-nothing approach, the report predicted, “dramatic increases in population and land consumption will have profound impacts on the quality of life and costs of living in the area,” specifying air quality, water sources, crowding and congestion, housing costs, crime, business and personal costs as areas of concern and that “government spending on infrastructure will force some difficult decisions about state and local spending priorities.”
The strategy offered six goals: to improve air quality, expand transit and bikeways, preserve open space, conserve water, diversify housing and invest in public infrastructure. Looking back at “business as usual” growth predictions, it’s clear that the congested Wasatch Front could have become much, much worse.
Compared to 2000 projections, people along the Wasatch Front are using less water per capita, driving fewer miles and emitting less air pollution, mainly due to cleaner automobile technology. Investment in Salt Lake City has kept the urban core alive. The development of TRAX light rail and Frontrunner trains persuaded commuters to get out of their cars. A shift in growth patterns (all those new apartment buildings) has kept sprawl development from an estimated 140 square miles of open space.
On the other side, wages have failed to keep up with housing costs, creating a low-income housing crisis. Traffic is worse, air quality is still poor and recreational trails are overrun.
In the next 30 years, Utah’s population is projected to add 2.5 million more people. Fortunately, Envision Utah has a plan called Your Utah, Your Future to help address additional growing pains.
- Envision Utah Quality Growth: envisionutah.org/quality-growth
This is an excerpt from our August Environews column. View the full article here.