Thursday, December 01, 2005

Utah -- Great Home of the Sprawl?

Nice story in this morning's DesNews on the great "sprawl" taking place along the Wasatch Front. Trouble is, it may not be all that accurate.

Yesterday, all the media reported on the Sierra Club's recognition of Salt Lake City as a place that is learning how to develop "right;" that is, not sprawling. In this morning's Trib, there is a great story about West Valley City's work to create a city center and transit hub out of the old Valley Fair Mall. We seem to be getting recognition all over the place about how Envision Utah has helped us turn the corner and learn to grow better (though I am quick to recognize that we still leave a lot to be desired in actually implementing the stuff Envision Utah has put forward).

So, in today's DesNews story, intrepid reporters Erin Stewart and Brady Snyder write, "Go figure: On the day when Salt Lake City is lauded as an anti-sprawl champion, Salt Lake County building permit figures show the cities surrounding Utah's capital are sprawling out in record numbers."

They then proceed to point out how in the fartherst reaches of the county, places like Herriman are rapidly growing, putting the lie to the anti-sprawl plaudits.

Just what is sprawl, O knowledgable writers? Is it simply rapid growth in areas away from the traditional urban core? If that were the case, why did you not write about Daybreak, which is almost as far out as Herriman?

Is it just the pattern of development -- large lots vs. New Urbanism? If this is the case, how then do you explain a recent study by the Northwest Environment Watch on how major metro areas around the country compare with the way Portland, the anti-sprawl advocate's Mecca, has grown?

The study, called "The Portland Exception: A Comparison of Sprawl, Smart Growth, and Rural Land Loss in 15 U.S. Cities," reaches some interesting conclusions. "For every 100 new residents added to metropolitan Portland's cities and suburbs between 1990 and 2000, about 10 acres of rural land or open space were converted to suburban or urban development. In contrast, new residential development in Charlotte, North Carolina, consumed 49 acres...for every 100 new residents."

"NEW's analysis...quite clearly demonstrates that greater Portland's urban growth policies...have helped protect rural lands and open space on the urban fringe, and prevent the spread of low-density, sprawling development."

The tone of the study is definitely that Portland's growth policies have done a great job of reigning in the spread of new growth across the landscape. No wonder we keep hearing that we should all try to be like Portland.

The really interesting part of the study, however, is that of the 15 metro areas studied, Portland came in third. There were two that actually had better numbers than Portland, with only 9 acres of land consumed for every 100 new residents. One was Sacramento, and the other was ... Utah's Wasatch Front.

How can this be? We have so many Herrimans and Lehis and West Jordans and, and, ... such BAD land use policies (except maybe in Salt Lake City, according to the Sierra Club -- quote Mark Heileson, "You have good things happening in one area, and then you have the worst kind of sprawl you can get in the Herriman area...")

Maybe it has something to do with our desert environment, sandwiched between a couple of "natural" urban growth boundaries -- the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. Actually, when I think of the kinds of developments we approve around here, they are NOT like what you find in Virginia or North Carolina, or even Illinois or Michigan. We do have relatively small lots.

So, dear DesNews reporters, maybe saying what sprawl is, is not so easy. At least one study says we do OK, and even the Sierra Club seems to agree.


At 3:51 PM, Blogger Nick said...

The biggest problems with growth in UT is related to the land uses. Herriman, until very recently, did not have a commercial aspect to their land use. The problem with this is that residnets are forced to leave their community for basic essentials, entertainement, recreation, etc. Many cities have struggled with residents concerns about commercial uses and the perception that they will be detrimental to their communities. LULU and NIMBY attitudes are the driving forces behind local land use decisions. I think that until the public changes their perception, growth patterns will remain the same. In many cases, planners are not the decision makers, but we have an obligation to consider the long term consequences of proposals even if they are not currently popular.

Back on topic, growth is almost always considered sprawl. The Wasatch Front is underrated as far as planning goes, mainly due to how easy it is to place the blame on pollution, particular pollution from cars. All of the pollution, especially during inversions, has got to be the result of too much driving, which is due to sprawl! (right? comment is mostly a joke, clearly pollution would be better if there were less cars on the road)

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Wilf said...


Right on! It is about the design of the suburbs, allowing for mixed use, walkability, employment centers, etc. But we must also respect the desire of some to live far away from anything if they want -- it's just going to cost them more, and over time will be further and further away.


Post a Comment

<< Home