Ever since the first tribesman built his yurt next to another tribesman's yurt because the view was pretty, the problem has been the same: How to accommodate the growing number of people who want to live in a wonderful area without making the area much less wonderful?
You can wait until the area becomes so crowded and foul that nobody wants to live there anymore. But that almost never works. (See the slums of Rio de Janeiro.) You can try to impose top-down management plans. But that never works, either. (See the soulless apartment blocks of eastern Europe.)
Or you can come up with a vision of urban development that is so thoughtful, attractive and evidence-based that people are eager to adopt your vision as their own.
That is the problem faced, and the solution offered, by the Wasatch Choice for 2040. The Wasatch Front Regional Council, Envision Utah and a pleasingly cooperative group of city and county governments have worked together, taken input from business groups, developers and regular people and, just last week, earned a $5 million federal grant. The result is a set of goals and tools to help absorb the 1.4 million people who are expected to move to, or be born in, Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties over the next 30 years.
Any honest appraisal of the status quo would reveal that, without some changes of habit, our beautiful valley risks becoming unlivable. Pollution. Sprawl. Excessive costs of meeting never-ending demands for highways, schools and other public services. It is enough to destroy the very quality of life that attracted the current residents, and will continue to draw rapid growth for the foreseeable future.
There is, though, hope. Research shows that the two biggest bulges in the demographic snake retiring baby boomers and up-and-coming millennials are losing interest in sprawling housing developments and long commutes that cost money, steal time and make living in a beautiful place a lot less beautiful. City center, town center and transit-oriented developments where work, school, recreation and shopping are within easy reach of one another are no longer just the ideas of ivory tower planners, but highly desired by homebuyers and renters.
Wasatch Choice for 2040 is a tool kit for cities, counties, developers, community groups and bankers to use when building the next generation of Wasatch Front development.
Nothing is mandatory. Everything is researched. It is all adaptable to the different needs and desires of cities, towns and neighborhoods.
And it is here in the nick of time.