Implementation Cornerstone 1:
A Network of Quality Communities
Our communities, cities, and towns are made up of places to live, places to shop, places to learn, places to play, places to work, and ways to travel between them all. Utah was settled with many small villages and towns widely scattered throughout Utah’s valleys. Each town was centered around a main street or town center. Over time, as Utah has grown, many of those cities and towns have grown together, and their main streets and town centers have struggled to survive.
Restoring that fabric of neighborhood, village, town, and urban centers—and building a pattern of new centers as growth expands outward—will significantly improve the convenience of living in Utah as our population nearly doubles by 2050. Centers bring destinations closer to people, making it convenient to drive short distances, take public transportation, walk, or bike. This in turn improves air quality.
Utah is midstream in two market changes that offer tremendous opportunities to establish a strong
pattern of centers:
- Residential development is becoming more compact. Particularly along the Wasatch Front, lot sizes have been shrinking for decades. Most Utahns still desire to live in single-family homes, but many consumers are choosing to live in homes with smaller yards or even townhomes. This trend, which is driven by rising costs, as well as changing preferences, provides the opportunity to develop compact residential housing in and around new or restored centers. Providing such housing means more residents can live close to jobs, shopping, and other destinations. Such housing development will also use less water for lawns and less land per home, preserving more farmland and open space.
- Because of online shopping, the amount of retail-store space per person is declining and will continue to dramatically decrease. Many buildings in today’s shopping centers will become available for other uses or will be replaced by different types of buildings. These retail areas can be converted into mixed-use centers that contain compact housing, restaurants, and other local services. We can take advantage of this market trend to reestablish and strengthen the historic pattern of centers in our existing communities.
An effective pattern of centers will have the following characteristics, many of which can occur even in a small rural town:
A VARIETY OF CENTERS
Having a range of centers at different scales allows communities to incorporate all the destinations and services that people need to access. The size, location, and components of these centers vary and are determined by market needs, with different types of businesses and public services requiring different sizes of market areas (e.g., the Utah Jazz requires many people or rooftops to stay financially viable than does a community recreation facility; therefore, only center in Utah can contain the Jazz arena, while numerous centers can contain a community recreation facility). Different scales of centers include the following:
1. Neighborhood centers might include a park, school, and/or church within walking distance of homes.
2. Village centers might include local shopping (e.g., a grocery store), small-scale employment, compact housing, and local-serving development (e.g., 9th and 9th in Salt Lake City).
3. Town centers might include regional shopping (e.g., home improvement or department stores), employment, higher education, compact housing, and other development (e.g, Sugar House).
4. Urban centers may serve as downtowns, with significant employment, shopping centers, multistory housing, etc. (e.g., Ogden or Salt Lake City).
It is important for Utah’s central city, Salt Lake City, to continue to become a great international city, a strong regional center for Utah, and a combination of great neighborhoods. Downtown Rising, a vision for the future of Salt Lake City, is rapidly being implemented with strategies to accomplish these goals.
A MIX OF USES IN EACH CENTER
Centers that mix housing, shopping, businesses, parks, schools, cultural opportunities, churches, and other uses have two distinct benefits. First, mixed-use centers can significantly shorten the distance people have to travel to get to their destinations. As a result, people can enjoy shorter drives and the convenience of walking, biking, or taking public transportation. Second, including housing in these centers provides restaurants and other businesses with regular patrons. Centers should also be vibrant places of culture where people experience beauty, learning, and a sense of community.
MANY CENTERS EVERYWHERE
To be most effective, centers need to be close to where people live. Therefore, centers must be as close together as the market will permit but also widely distributed throughout urban and suburban areas so they are easily accessible to everyone. When the pattern of centers consists of only larger centers that are too spread out, traveling becomes inconvenient and people must drive long distances to reach destinations.
CONVENIENCE FOR DRIVING, WALKING, BIKING, OR TAKING PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Centers need to be easily accessible. The convenience of traveling—including driving, biking, walking, and taking public transportation—in and to these centers is therefore important. An interconnected network of streets, like the street grids in many Utah pioneer communities, provides more direct walking routes and disperses traffic. “Complete streets,” those designed for a variety of transportation modes, also improve the safety and convenience of traveling. Front doors that access the street rather than a parking lot also significantly improve pedestrian convenience. When people can walk or bike conveniently, they can also access public transportation more easily.
A NETWORK OF CENTERS CONNECTED BY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AND ROADS
Interconnecting centers is critical. These connections should be made in a variety of ways to provide multiple travel options. Both roads and public transportation should be designed to provide convenient access to destinations. By expanding the public transportation system and placing stations in mixed-use centers, more Utahns can conveniently access public transportation.
AN INTERCONNECTED NETWORK OF PARKS AND TRAILS
An interconnected network of parks, trails, and natural areas in and between communities provides places for recreation, as well as corridors for travel to and within centers. In addition, these networks of open space provide habitat, reduce urban heat island, and help control, absorb, and clean stormwater runoff.
A VARIETY OF HOUSING TYPES
A full mix of housing options includes apartments, accessory dwellings (such as over-garage or basement apartments), townhomes, duplexes, and single-family homes. Allowing and encouraging a variety of housing types in each community that matches market demand will allow more people to find housing they want and can afford.
DEVELOPMENT THAT AVOIDS HAZARDOUS AREAS AND CRITICAL LANDS
Where we build our homes, businesses, and communities can play a critical role in how vulnerable we are to disasters. High-risk locations include fault lines, liquefaction zones, rockfall or landslide areas, floodplains, and the wildland-urban interface (where there is an increased risk of wild fires). In addition, where we locate new development can determine how much prime agricultural land, important wildlife habitats, or key watershed areas are lost to urbanization.
Building a network of quality communities that have these attributes is a robust strategy with significant benefits for almost every topic Utahns ranked as being important to our future: air quality, water, transportation, housing, cost of living, recreation, education, agriculture, health, disaster resilience, and jobs and economy. Specifically, benefits include the following:
- Better air quality, as people drive less
- Greater convenience of walking, biking, or taking public transportation
- Improved physical and mental health, as people are more active
- Reduced demand for water, as yards become smaller
- More agricultural land and water, as well as open space, as urban development becomes more compact
- More affordable housing in desirable neighborhoods for people of different incomes, abilities, and stages of life
- Decreased cost of living through less-expensive transportation options and the reduced need to own a car
- Better access for all Utahns to good schools, healthcare, recreation, healthy food, shopping, jobs, etc.
- Reduced concentrations of poverty, as Utah communities provide a range of housing choices
- Increased resilience to disaster, as development avoids hazardous areas
- Better recreational spaces close to where people live
- Healthier ecosystems and better stormwater management
- ...And many more!