Utah’s population is growing 2.5 times faster than that of the nation. The state’s population doubled over the last three decades and is projected to increase by another 2.5 million residents by 2050. About 80 percent of those new residents will settle along the Wasatch Front.
Such growth begets pressing questions. Where will the newcomers live? Will we have clean air to breathe and enough water for our needs? Will there be quality jobs for everyone and the transportation infrastructure to move about without gridlock? Can we sustain that much population growth without degrading our economy, our quality of life and our natural lands, agriculture and recreational options?
“In Utah, we don’t believe in sitting back and seeing where growth will take us,” Herbert said when he announced the initiative. “We seek to be visionary and to actively secure our future. Together, we will develop a voluntary, locally-implemented, market-driven vision to help keep Utah beautiful, prosperous, healthy and neighborly for residents and future generations.”
The initiative is a two-year, grass-roots effort designed to involve Utahns state-wide in proactively planning how the state will meet its future growth challenges. Envision Utah is a nonprofit public/private partnership known for its long history of facilitating informed public involvement to explore land use, transportation and environmental solutions to the challenges presented by growth.
In 1999, Envision Utah led a process that helped the 10-county greater Wasatch area prepare for a million more residents. The product of that effort was called the Quality Growth Strategy. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget estimated that implementing the strategy would save Utahns $4.5 billion dollars over 20 years. That effort saved the urbanization of 200 square miles of land and helped cut personal water consumption by 25 percent, all through voluntary, market-based actions.
“A future left to chance is not a legacy we wish to leave our children,” says Envision Utah President and CEO Robert Grow. “We all love our high quality of life, our beautiful natural surroundings and our strong economy. To protect those things we value, we need to establish a vision together for our Utah and our future.”
Envision Utah Community Relations Manager Kevin Fayles adds that when states focus on quality of life issues, they exhibit a competitive edge in capturing economic development and in attracting and retaining businesses and workers. “The Your Utah, Your Future process will help safeguard Utah’s competitive advantage, get the public aligned on the big issues facing the state and help maintain our high quality of life,” he explains.
Envision Utah will use its transparent, grassroots approach to draw out public values, research possible growth scenarios and create a statewide vision for growth. Grow says the process will take a multi-generational look at the top issues facing the state by involving key stakeholders and the public in examining possible choices and future outcomes, with the goal of establishing a vision and a strategy to achieve the most optimal results. To facilitate the process, Envision Utah will develop diverse action teams of experts and stakeholders that will focus on the following eight areas:
Air quality (Gov. Herbert’s recently announced Clean Air Action Team will serve as this stakeholder committee.)
Water (Gov. Herbert’s recently announced State Water Strategic Advisory Team will serve as this stakeholder committee.)
Energy and infrastructure, including disaster resilience
Natural lands, agriculture and recreation
Transportation and communities
Cost of living and housing
The teams will develop plausible scenarios of how Utah’s future may develop in each area. Grow says the scenarios will be evaluated through a broad public engagement process taking public input and framing the choices so Utahns can understand the options. More than 20,000 Utahns participated in the creation of the original Quality Growth Strategy and he anticipates the Your Utah, Your Future initiative will exceed that level of resident involvement over the next two years. Once the options are compiled, it will be the job of residents to evaluate the choices and voice their desires regarding the future they would like to see.
To help city and county leaders in the process, the Wasatch Choice for 2040 partners are conducting training sessions on a suite of new, cutting-edge technological tools and resources designed to help plan more efficiently. The tools were developed as part of the Wasatch Choice 2040 Consortium in a collaborative partnership involving the Utah Chapter of the American Planning Association, Envision Utah, Mountainland Association of Governments, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, the University of Utah, the Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Transit Authority and the Wasatch Front Regional Council. The toolkit allows leaders, planners and citizens to analyze current and future housing, transportation and development needs and then identify different future paths for growth to create places within communities that support the public’s view of the future.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams described the tools as state-of-the-art. “Upon full usage,” he said, “the tools and resources will help the public and private sectors to plan more efficiently, saving precious tax dollars, enhancing their communities and strengthening our quality of life for generations to come.”
The all-day training sessions are open to cities, counties, developers and anyone interested in learning to use the tools. The next training sessions will be held on Dec. 3 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Celebration Center, 1335 W. 3100 South in West Valley City (register online here) and Dec. 4 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Farmington Community Center, 120 S. Main St. (register online here).
Further, Envision Utah invites Utah residents to begin participating in the Your Utah, Your Future initiative by sharing their thoughts and ideas at www.envisionutah.org. As the process moves forward, the public will be invited to participate in workshops and respond to choices in an online survey, says Grow.