Without a plan to address the projected 1.5 million additional residents who will live in Utah by 2050, the future may look something like this: worsened air quality, increased traffic congestion and a continued lack of affordable housing.
But as elected officials, business leaders, community organizers, transportation agencies and developers came together downtown Tuesday morning, they outlined a different vision — one that would provide more transportation choices and housing options, preserve open space and link development with transportation decisions.
“The Wasatch Choice for 2050 is about a vision for the [community],” said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. “Something that we choose for ourselves, where we’ve improved our air quality, where we don’t have traffic congestion. And that really takes planting seeds today — making decisions today that will have an impact over the next 10 to 20 years.”
The Wasatch Choice 2050 vision will update the existing 2040 blueprint — which was created with the help of a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — on how to handle population growth along the Wasatch Front over the next 30 years.
The Wasatch Choice 2050 vision is currently in draft form, but Wasatch Front Regional Council Executive Director Andrew Gruber anticipates it could have some big impacts.
For one, he says the plan would provide residents with access to 57 percent more jobs within 30 minutes of their homes in the next 30 years, improving the state’s air quality by reducing commute times. He also anticipates the plan could save municipalities close to $6 billion by linking development and transportation decisions.
The initiative’s success depends on cities and counties working together with other stakeholders to create “bottom-up” solutions to local problems.
“Local communities know their neighborhoods best,” Gruber said. “They know what their residents want and they have to be empowered with the ability to work with the private sector, with land owners and with community residents to make decisions about the local community fabric.”
But Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said it can be difficult to see that big picture on the local level, making a conference like this one especially important.
“A lot of decisions, unfortunately, in political environments are made short term,” he said. “You have what we call the ‘tyranny of the urgent.’ Your phone is always ringing and somebody is always at your door asking for things. You sometimes don’t have a chance to take a big step back and really think about the future. That’s what this conference is for — for everybody to take a step back and listen to the professionals.”
In Ogden, Caldwell said he envisions the city as having “a great mix of a very robust urban downtown core where you can walk, ride your bike or get public transportation” by 2050. He wants the city to be “livable and walkable, with lots of small, eclectic coffee shops and bookstores and small groceries mixed in with these denser environments.”
Without proper foresight, McAdams said plans like that one likely won’t be possible.
“If we don’t have a plan, then we’re allowing facts and circumstances to dictate the future for us,” he said. “And I think if we do that, the community is not going to be something we choose. It’s not going to be something we may even enjoy. What I want to do is hand off to our kids and grandkids a community that’s as great as the one we know today.”