Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Desire for Open Space -- A Trojan Horse?

The DesNews this morning ran a story on the Dan Jones poll commissioned by the Utah League of Cities and Towns asking people what their most pressing local concerns were, and their opinions on this topics. Some of this was discussed at the League annual conference in September. Growth and the way it is handled are among the top concerns among community residents. At the League conference, Dan Jones even went so far as to say that the issue of how growth is handled would be the top issue of next year's municipal elections.

What I find particularly interesting is the strong support for open space preservation. On the surface, this seems like a great result, something many have been working for for some time. But as I looked at the overall survey results, it is summed up in how one of the questions was asked -- should open space be preserved to resist further development?

While I think people are generally sincere in their desire to see open space preserved, there is another motivation at work here -- that is, if we preserve open space (particularly the pieces near my house), then we've stopped new development, or at least shifted it to someplace else.

If we are truly desirous of seeing the pattern of suburban development change, then we should also be supporting the intensification of density so that the same number of dwellings will still be built in a given area, just that more of the area will be in open space. Otherwise, don't we risk just pushing development even farther out because the land that would have had new homes built on it is now unavailable? But I don't see our citizens supportive of increasing densities near their homes -- if anything, their opposition has become even stronger.

If the public doesn't want to come up with the money to pay for all that extra open space (though right now it seems they are willing to do so -- we'll see what happens with the measures that are on the ballot in Utah this November), then what better way than to incentivize developers by giving them increased density for setting aside open land?

Just a little something to keep in mind as there are more calls for preservation of open space.


At 10:54 AM, Blogger vagabond said...

this always burns me up how people say they want open space but what they really mean is as long as it does not require any pain or expense on their part. cities have done themselves a great injustice by thinking that 1/2 acre or larger lot zoning constitues "open space". what it really translates into is more sprawl.

one of the great ways to create open space is the use of TDR's. sadly, too many of our elected and appointed officials have been reluctant to implement them or ignorant of their benefits to the region.

like wilf says, in order to preserve and protect areas we have to make decisions to densify and stop sprawling.

At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Wooly said...

First I should say I have really enjoyed your postings and this blog. I was looking up a wikipedia article about Providence, UT, where I live, and there was a link to something about our mayor, Randy Simmons. Simmons linked to your blog and called you one of the clearest planning thinkers he knew of.

You have done a good job of laying out the underlying realities of planning and growth. In simple terms it's about people wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Pretty much everyone wants a nice suburban/rural place to live (including large lots and open land), with good neigbors, and of course urban style resources near them...including work. They want the impossible, but I don't blame them. I want it too.

So when people say they want less development of open land, AND they oppose denser development at the same time, they are expressing their desire to stop growth period. They don't want more people moving in. I understand that. That is how I feel.

Now I know the answer I will get is that growth is essential for the economy, and that growth is inevitable. Well, I don't care. And I don't think most people care for those answers either. They want less growth. They want their communities to have some continuity from decade to decade, some semblence that it is still the town they love. I think we just need less people moving to Utah period. I wish we could find a way to discorouge people from moving here. And I am a "gangplanker" in some sense. Although we didn't have any money, or own a large house on the bench, my family came here 20 years ago from back east. I want to still recognize and enjoy my community, and not see it become the Salt Lake Valley.

As long as people want something that runs contrary to what seems inevitable...growth, then you will continue to see people oppose what seems like smart legislation and planning. You won't see them take an active interest in planning issues (other than to oppose everything), or get involved in a movement for long range projects, like Envision Utah.

I don't have a good answer on how to control growth to a very low rate. I have thought about it for years. The only things that come to mind involve unconstitutional policies and acts, and/or pricing people out. This may sound inane and impossible to you as a planner, but I really think people just want less growth altogether. They don't want more land developed, and they don't want denser development either.

When you really think about, communities are fighting one another to have a better position. In order to have urban style resources near a suburban heaven, one town will be servicing another. That is what a suburb is all about. People in Providence don't want denser development... that is what Logan city is for! These towns are not going to get together for the good of everyone. They will get involved for the good of themselves. Long range planning will have to reflect that reality. I don't see Envision Utah succeeding without adhering to that principle.

Oh, and one last thing. We need the Legacy Highway before we all go crazy and kill one another in traffic on the Wasatch corridor. I don't really care how it gets done, I don't care if you violate a federal court decision, I don't care if you pave over some water fowl habitat...please Utah, just get it built!


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