Making Places Great with @APAUTAH

Are you planning to attend the the American Planning Association Utah Spring Conference, April 1-3 in beautiful St. George?

The schedule features great keynote speakers:

  • Donald L. Elliott, FAICP- Zoning Great Places
  • Tom Daniels, Ph.D.- Heart and Soul of a Community
  • Ari Bruening, JD- Your Utah Your Future

And great break out sessions in the areas of:

  • Keeping Great Places
  • Creating Great Places
  • Citizen Planners
  • Visiting Great Places

Learn more at 

Utah’s Secret Weapon for Long-Range Planning

As reported by

Robert Grow is aptly named. He has devoted his entire career to dealing with economic growth -- not promoting it or hindering it, but controlling and channeling it to serve the needs of the broader community rather than a select few.

He is an engineer, a land use and development attorney, and the former president of a steel company. He has consulted on growth issues in more than 75 cities around the country. But he is best known for his work as the president and CEO of Envision Utah, the organization that has emerged over the last 15 years as the preeminent model for regional planning.

In fact, Envision Utah isn’t regional. It’s a statewide enterprise. It isn’t exactly a program, either; it’s more of a process. And it’s not a government effort, though the state and most local governments are involved. The best way to describe it is as a loosely defined, public-private-nonprofit partnership that includes most every stakeholder imaginable: local public officials, planning professionals, developers, conservationists, business and community leaders, and just about anyone else who shows an interest and a willingness to collaborate for a common purpose. Participation is entirely voluntary.

It sounds like an amorphous tangle of interests and stakeholders, but Envision Utah’s accomplishments over more than a decade are undeniably impressive, even remarkable. When the initiative first began, the state’s biggest concerns were water and air, and Envision Utah has helped achieve big successes in both those areas. Despite a statewide population increase of nearly 30 percent since the 2000 Census, water consumption has fallen by more than a quarter, in large part because of increased housing density on smaller lots. Emissions of inventoried air pollutants has dropped by almost half, and the state is currently working toward an even more aggressive clean air campaign. Projections made in 1998, before Envision Utah got started, assumed that an additional 300 square miles of rural land would be lost to development by now. Thanks to changing land use patterns that Envision Utah has helped to promote, the actual total has been less than half that amount.

But changes to the state’s transportation system are the most dramatic of all. Vehicle miles traveled have actually fallen back to what they were in the late 1990s, largely because of improved community design and a dramatic increase in public transit. Utah now has more transit infrastructure than many larger states, with a total of 70 stations for its rail and light rail systems. 

To talk to Envision Utah’s leaders is to learn that they value the organization’s procedures almost as much as they do the tangible changes. From the beginning, Envision Utah has been successful at engaging citizens. Nearly 20,000 people participated in the first round of developing a “quality growth strategy” more than 15 years ago. Robert Grow’s goal for the latest effort, known as “Your Utah, Your Future,” is 50,000 people. Programs have been launched in communities ranging from Salt Lake City to the towns of Provo, Magna and Kearns.

Today, a decade and a half in, Envision Utah has become a national model for planning. It now faces new, divisive challenges. And there’s one major exception to the success story: education. Envision Utah has been unable to do much about Utah’s public schools -- the state has slipped in most performance rankings and per capita spending per pupil is the lowest in the country. The state education budget has endured years of stagnation since the Great Recession began; only this year has Gov. Gary Herbert begun to recommend a significant new investment in the public school system.

But on balance, at a time when dysfunction seems to define government at the national level -- and, increasingly, at the state and local level -- Envision Utah’s grassroots, nonideological, transparent process, blending sophisticated research into relevant facts and community values, has a story to tell that extends far beyond the borders of its state.

There is a rich history of urban planning in Utah. The original Mormon plan for community design, known as the Plat of the City of Zion, won an urban design award from the American Planning Association in 1996 -- 163 years after it was developed by church founder Joseph Smith for a community in Missouri. When the Mormons arrived in Utah in 1847, leader Brigham Young made certain that the fundamental plan became the standard for Salt Lake City and every Mormon settlement established every 25 miles around the state and elsewhere in the West.

More than a century and a half later, the planning tradition has not died. The most recent example is Daybreak, a highly successful planned mixed-use development started a decade ago in South Jordan, just southeast of Salt Lake City. Envision Utah was involved in the planning as a partner with Kennecott Land Co.; Robert Grow served as its legal counsel. At 4,100 acres, Daybreak now accounts for 1 in 6 home sales in the Salt Lake Valley. All the homes are within a five-minute walk or bike ride of amenities, such as shopping or parks. The residential design follows the tradition of historic Salt Lake City neighborhoods like Sugar House and The Avenues, with large front porches and bright colors. Many of the Daybreak houses have solar and thermal panels and other energy-saving features. In 2011, the National Association of Home Builders gave the development its platinum award for suburban smart growth.

Don Whyte, who oversaw the development of Daybreak as president of Kennecott Land, says the trick to planning growth “is to get to the stage where we can see what we agree on. It’s not that hard to agree on the stuff we want and don’t want. If you just bring in a plan to be approved, it automatically will be viewed as an adversarial plan.” Whyte was inspired by Robert Grow’s work early on. “He knows how to manage a group well,” Whyte says. “He has an ability to get people to buy in not only with their support, but with their money.” Whyte now is involved in an ambitious plan to use Envision Utah’s collaborative process in development of a huge 300,000-acre ranch in Florida. “If it can happen in Utah,” he says, “it can happen here.”

Despite the state’s legacy of careful urban planning, land use has always been a highly sensitive issue in Utah politics. In the 1970s, the state’s newly enacted land use planning law ran afoul of the prevailing political culture. “Early on,” says Alan Matheson, a former executive director of Envision Utah, “there was a lot of resistance, especially from those who thought centralized planning was synonymous with communism. They thought it was a ruse for creating regional government.” The law was repealed by public referendum, and the idea of growth management disappeared from the state agenda for almost a quarter-century.

When growth control issues began coming up again in the mid 1990s, Mike Leavitt was governor. He proceeded cautiously. Leaders of a group called the Coalition for Utah’s Future came to him in 1995 and asked for state sponsorship of a new planning effort. He declined, saying that Utah’s public sentiment never would tolerate something viewed as a state-sponsored attempt to tell people how to live. Leavitt knew that Utah was a bottoms-up state, so any hint of a top-down initiative -- federal or state -- would be a deal-killer.

 But Leavitt was a believer in the broader idea of better planning. He steered the effort away from direct government control. That was how Envision Utah took the shape that it did. “Envision Utah is a community effort, not a government effort,” Leavitt says today. “It has had to adapt. The state was facing very serious growth problems. Water and open space were being used up for unconnected reasons. There was a genuine concern that we must do a better job, and that it had to be done locally. We had to teach the ethic of planning.”

The creation of Envision Utah produced some strange alliances. Conservative Republicans in the legislature were impressed by the reduced costs for infrastructure -- along with maintenance, fire and EMS -- that could be achieved with compact development. Environmentalists and others approved of the diminished use of water and reduced air pollution. Eventually there emerged a set of basic principles that came to define Envision Utah. One of the most important of these was that it wouldn’t be a project; it would be a process. It would start with a baseline report showing how the state’s heavily populated areas would grow if no changes were made to existing trends. The results would be shared with as many residents as possible, and everyone who wanted to participate would be included in the process of deciding how the area should grow.       

The initial study was focused on the Greater Wasatch area -- a narrow 10-county corridor down the Wasatch mountain range reaching 100 miles north to south of Salt Lake City and 40 miles east to west. The relatively small area was projected to account for 80 percent of Utah’s future growth. At the time, the area was home to 1.6 million residents, but was projected to add 1 million more by 2020 and to almost triple in size by 2050. As of the 2010 Census, the total had already exceeded 2.3 million.

The final report showed that small changes in the growth strategy could have profound effects on the Wasatch region over time, saving almost $5 billion in infrastructure costs, preserving 116 square miles of agricultural land and 171 square miles of undeveloped land. Transit would improve to the point where residents would save up to $2 billion in transportation costs, resulting in less air pollution. Perhaps most important: Water conservation would double, saving 93,200 acre feet of water. Some of those elements in the strategy seemed an overreach at the time they were proposed; 15 years later, most of them have been accomplished.

Most critically, an extremely ambitious -- and in the end successful -- effort to sell the new growth strategy to the public was launched. Public polling, which had initially reflected deep skepticism, began to shift. Voters in three key counties -- Weber, Salt Lake and Davis -- in November 2000 passed a local sales tax increase to fund the beginnings of a commuter and light rail system. Eight years earlier, that same ballot measure had been handily defeated.  

Sophisticated public opinion research was critical in the early years of Envision Utah, and it remains a key ingredient in its success today. New Urbanist planner Peter Calthorpe was brought in to run a series of workshops, along with Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin, who focused on gauging public opinion. Together, their “values research” helped determine the public’s core values, rather than just their policy positions. The research revealed that those values were remarkably aligned statewide. “We found that language has power,” Matheson recalls. “The use of the word ‘environment’ can be polarizing, but everybody loves ‘nature and the outdoors.’ It was a big change from selling product to developing policy.” Envision Utah is now in its third stage of values research, which is a central part of the “Your Utah, Your Future” effort. This time, the organization is making heavy use of social media and gamification models, allowing participants to explore different development scenarios and weigh in with their choices.

From the beginning, the inclusion of a wide range of people -- the grassroots effort -- was a defining tenet of the process. But perhaps more discreet was a “brass-roots” strategy for attracting certain key individuals, particularly those who might have been natural opponents because of concerns about centralized planning. In fact, most upper-tier politicians in the state have been involved with Envision Utah. According to Matheson, it has become “sort of a farm club for state leadership.” 

 The most prominent local leader on Envision Utah’s side is Ralph Becker, the mayor of Salt Lake City. A land use lawyer and planner himself, Becker says the Envision Utah process “really has had an effect without being top-down in any sense. It has formulated a long-term direction that reflects public sentiment.”

Becker can also be a critic of Envision Utah. Some years ago, he and other local officeholders were concerned that the “quality of staff work had deteriorated, with some seeking their own agendas, losing their objectivity.” Becker and other officials from Salt Lake City were sufficiently concerned that they began to withdraw their involvement. In time, the situation was reversed, but it was a warning. The Envision Utah process requires unrelenting discipline and constant scrutiny. And it cannot not lose sight of the fact that it is local leaders who must carry out any growth strategy by making changes in their zoning ordinances, planning for new growth.

Envision Utah today is infused with a new energy. As the program evolved during the first decade of the millennium, Envision Utah went through a less dynamic period in its history. Grow had left his position as chair in 1999 to serve a term as a mission president for the Mormon Church in Sacramento, Calif.; he didn’t return to Envision Utah full time until 2010. In 2012 Grow became president and CEO, and the ambitious “Your Utah, Your Future” campaign was launched shortly afterward.

The collaborative, deliberative approach of Envision Utah has been so successful that it’s now being used in other areas. One such effort is an ongoing planning process called the Mountain Accord. Purposefully patterned after Envision Utah, the Accord is working on a compromise plan for the future development of the Wasatch mountains, bringing together the ski industry; conservationists; the town of Park City; Salt Lake City; Salt Lake, Summit and Wasatch counties; the U.S. Forest Service and many others. There is more at stake than just the ambitions of wealthy ski resort developers. The Wasatch mountains and their canyons are a critical watershed in a state where water is the predominant concern. Right now, the Mountain Accord is in the process of choosing a preferred scenario for the region, mirroring the first phase of the traditional Envision Utah process. Then specific steps to carry out that plan will be drawn up. “I don’t know exactly how it is going to work, but it absolutely has to work,” says Carl Fisher, executive director of the conservation group Save Our Canyons. “We’ve been fighting over the canyons for decades. But everybody is participating in this and have bought into [the Accord]. This is an important first step for the future.”

It’s a thorny debate involving two dozen different interests, and reaching a universally accepted plan initially seemed impossible. But for veteran collaborators like former Gov. Leavitt, it’s just another issue looking for a solution.  “The conflict between the ski industry and conservationists, or between farming and mining interests -- those exist everywhere,” he says.  “The question is can we solve the conflict using brute political power or can we sit down together and solve it.”

The most important challenges for Envision Utah in the next few years may be ones on which it has been relatively silent so far. One of those is federalism. In Utah, 63 percent of the land is federally owned, and residents are angry because they feel they have no control of their own environs. That anger has resulted in the arrest of protesters, including a San Juan County commissioner, who openly defied a federal Bureau of Land Management order not to use motorized vehicles in Recapture Canyon, in the Four Corners area of southeastern Utah. A trial is set for early this year. Jousting with the federal government over land issues has never been one of Envision Utah’s favorite activities. But the group may be called upon to use its vaunted negotiating skills to fashion relationships that all parties to the dispute can accept.

Then there’s fracking. The energy industry has been operating in Utah for decades in search of oil, gas and uranium, but modern hydraulic fracturing technology has reinvigorated it just at the time that tourism in the national parks from Moab at the southern end of the state to St. George has taken off in popularity.  Arches National Park, outside the town of Moab, a mecca for backcountry hikers and bikers, attracted a million visitors in 2013, for the third year in a row. But in the midst of some of the most awesome natural views in the world there are convoys of trucks and other heavy equipment constantly rambling into the wilderness to establish new wells, with the inevitable accidental spills into the Colorado River. In the end, the future of fracking on those lands will be up to the feds, not the state of Utah. But it is an issue that could soon work its way onto Envision Utah’s plate.

Both of these are terribly divisive subjects. Still, Grow has seen enough to know that Envision Utah will have to do what it has always done -- mix patience with ambition. “It works because you’re looking at a time horizon far out enough that you can see the results of what you’re going to do,” he says. “Setting time horizons really matters. You have to get your eyes off of your shoes.”

What do you think? City unveils new plans for downtown Regent Street by theater

As reported by the Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — Civic leaders are considering an ambitious plan to fill in a gap between two downtown entertainment areas with the redevelopment of a venerable old Salt Lake City block.

Mayor Ralph Becker Tuesday presented a proposal to revamp Regent Street in an effort to make it the mid-block connector between City Creek and the Gallivan Center and transform it into a place where people “gather, discover and connect.”

Becker and other city administrators unveiled the new schematic design plans for the Regent Street block located on the east side of the new Eccles Theater, between 100 South and 200 South.

The project would include retail and dining establishments, a public plaza, along with custom landscape architecture throughout the common areas. While the street would still be accessed by motor vehicle traffic, the area would also be accessible to pedestrians and could be converted to pedestrian-only access for events such as concerts, Becker explained.

“Since I took office, a primary object is to make downtown a gathering place for the region — and have it be a true welcoming environment for people seeking all kinds of activities that you can really only find in the downtown area,” he said. “We see this as part of what we are doing to make this the 'cultural core' of the region.”

While the final price tag of the proposed project is yet to be determined, Becker estimated that it will cost at least $10 million to complete. Ideally, the project would be finished by mid- to late 2016, concurrent with the anticipated opening of the new downtown “Broadway-style” theater.

Ground was broken on the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater last June. The new 2,500-seat facility, located at 131 S. Main, is expected to have its first performances next summer.

The project will be overseen by the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City, while the design team will include locally-based GSBS Architects, STRUCK agency and VODA Landscape and Planning.

The creative teams mined Regent Street’s rich history that includes playing host to the city’s infamous “red light district” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as providing a home to both the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune for decades, he noted.

The redevelopment project is aimed at attracting more people into downtown and generating a distinctive experience that can’t happen anywhere else, said STRUCK agency's Brent Watts, who is part of the creative design team for the Regent Street project.

“We want to create a 'branded' experience,” he said, adding that besides gathering and dining, the corridor will include local artists and local shops.

“We want sizeable, small-scale retail shops on the street,” Watts said. “That’s important.”

He said other cities have developed their own locally “flavored” districts, such as Abbot Kinney in Venice, California, and the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon. He said his team wants to create the same kind of destination area in Salt Lake City.

“It’s been crafted as an experience that you would want to have on the street,” he said. “It’s uniquely Salt Lake.”

@MountainAccord unveils grand plan for central #WasatchFront

Editors note: This was originally published 2/3/15 by the Deseret News and ways to comment on the process are below.

SALT LAKE CITY — A vast blueprint for the central Wasatch Front that includes a network of trails, expansion of transit that could include trains to mountain resorts, and a tunnel connecting two canyons begins a public airing Wednesday as the plan balances protection of precious water and land resources with Utah's growth and economic expansion.

Mountain Accord, a consortium of 20 public and private entities, has released its proposed plan for future development of the central Wasatch recreation areas, noting economic centers and transit routes, and wants the public to give specific feedback about what Utah should look like in the future.

"It's the future we choose," said Ben McAdams, mayor of Salt Lake County, explaining the often-heard phrase he uses to inspire county employees to look and plan ahead.

McAdams serves as chairman of the executive committee board of Mountain Accord. He said he and the other stakeholders, which include business interests and environmentalists, are seeking compromise as they work with both "a sense of urgency and a sense of caution," he told the combined editorial board of the Deseret News and KSL broadcasting this week.

Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons are part of the Mountain Accord's blueprint for development of the central Wasatch Front canyons and backcountry. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Urgency because the population along this central Wasatch blueprint area is projected to grow from 1.1 million to 1.6 million by 2040, with the number of visitors to its recreation areas estimated to jump from 5.7 million to 7.2 million a year by then.

Caution because compromise is sought to find workable solutions for the network of interests that includes resorts, homeowners, business owners, transit officials and those charged with protecting the watershed.

“We’re looking for long-term solutions that will stand the test of time,” said Laynee Jones, Mountain Accord project manager, noting that she hopes 10,000 people will weigh in on the plans in anticipation of completing an environmental impact statement during the next two years.

She detailed four main actions of the plan: preserving the environment, focusing economic development in business centers while keeping tourism competitive, creation of a regional trail network, and expanding transit service that connects urban centers to the mountains.

Little Cottonwood Canyon is part of the Mountain Accord's blueprint for development of the central Wasatch Front canyons and backcountry. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

“As a town, we think that more connectivity is good, but it’s always a balance to keep it a nice place for our residents and our visitors,” said Park City Councilman Andy Beerman, responding to the plan. “But we also have to keep it accessible (to provide) a healthy economy.”

Beerman said transportation has long been a concern in Park City and figuring out “a better way to move people around” is a key component to the long-term growth plan for his community.

He said any transportation plan likely would include federal funding to build the project, whether it includes rail or buses, and he'd like to see development begin in the next two years or so.

“It’s an aggressive timeline, but we feel a sense of urgency on this,” he said. “I expect the debate to be long and spirited. There is a common sense of urgency that growth is coming and we need to better prepare for that if we want to protect the Wasatch.”

Big Cottonwood Canyon is part of the Mountain Accord's blueprint for development of the central Wasatch Front canyons and backcountry. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Save Our Canyons executive director Carl Fisher said his organization has had “huge concerns” with the idea of interconnection between the canyon resorts, but this proposal does address a number of conservation issues that are important to preserving the environment.

“We have a lot of concerns about these proposed transit connections,” Fisher said of his group, dedicated to preserving the beauty and wilderness of the mountains. “But this is what’s going out to the public and what we need to know from the community is, 'Is this a good deal?'"

He said the plan represents the most palatable compromise that could be reached while maintaining the highest level of conservation gains they could reach with other stakeholders.

Neither Jones nor McAdams put a price tag on the ambitious plan, saying it depends on what comes forward as priorities. But they hope to engage both public and private resources as the plan moves forward.

Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons are part of the Mountain Accord's blueprint for development of the central Wasatch Front canyons and backcountry. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Among the most debated will likely be the concept of fixed rail lines that would take passengers to and from the canyons. The blueprint includes maps showing proposed transit connections from already existing light rail and commuter rail lines to ski and recreation areas in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, along with Millcreek and Parley’s canyons.

Connecting the canyons is a way to help Utah compete in a global economy, McAdams said.

The benefits would not just be for ski resorts and their visitors, but for tourism in general and attracting businesses and jobs, he said. Leveraging the rail system and the mountain are sought-after ideas for businesses, he said.

“We want to know what the economic benefits are (in order) to tap into those benefits to pay for the project,” McAdams said. “We see a lot of potential beneficiaries, both governmental and private.”

Big Cottonwood Canyon is part of the Mountain Accord's blueprint for development of the central Wasatch Front canyons and backcountry. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

The Utah Transit Authority, the state’s largest agency, is taking a measured approach to the proposal.

“UTA understands the need for a transportation system that will preserve our mountain resources,” said spokesperson Remi Barron. “We are waiting to hear what the public has to say about the proposals for canyon transit.”

He said UTA would collaborate with all of the partners to identify transportation options and determine the best solution.

The full Mountain Accord blueprint can be found at and comments about the proposal can be submitted online.

A public Q-and-A session with Mountain Accord and government officials will be conducted Feb. 11, 6 p.m., at Cottonwood High School auditorium, 5715 S. 1300 East.

A public meeting in Park City is scheduled Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 750 Kearns Blvd. A second meeting will be conducted the following day, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m. at Skyline High School, 3251 E. 3760 South.

Get Involved

Provide Input on Proposed Blueprint by heading to 

Mountain Accord has developed a proposed Blueprint for the future of the Central Wasatch Mountains. They are soliciting public feedback on this document from now until March 16. During this period, the public is encouraged to comment using either the questionnaire below or by submitting comments via email at, or by mail to 375 West, 200 South, Ste. 275 SLC, UT 84101.

Thanks, Utah, for showing what planning and hard work can do

Editors note: This op-ed was originally published 1/31/15 on the Salt Lake Tribune.

When I first arrived in Salt Lake City four and a half years ago, I did not quite understand the moniker Beehive State. Gradually, though, I started to get it.

The deep and abiding sense of community here is palpable. People working together to create a place of quality for their children and grandchildren. People providing mutual assistance and support in times of need, which we all experience. People building alliances to pool resources, share ideas, envision better futures and realize goals. People listening to and valuing other people. Having lived in 21 cities in four countries on three continents, I realize this is a rare gift.

In addition to its solid community foundation and magnificent natural landscape, Salt Lake City also boasts urban vitality with walkable districts, good transit, pre-eminent medical care, thriving arts and culture and a plethora of creative local businesses. This is a city with good bones. Certainly, there remains more fleshing out to do, but the bones are strong.

I have had the privilege of chairing the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, which benefits greatly from its location in this region. Along with our intensive knowledge and skill-building courses, we also provide students hands-on experiences that contribute to improve the region. Students and faculty have been deeply involved in the creation of the 9 Line bike trail and the River District, revitalization of the Granary and University Gardens Districts, the introduction of urban planning and urban design into K-12 education, restoration of the Red Butte Creek Corridor, development of the Seven Canyons Trust, re-imagining Fort Union Boulevard and the Marriott Library plaza, conversion of Deer Valley into a year-round destination and much more.

Over the past four years, we have hosted the Mayor's Symposium with Mayor Ralph Becker on topics of local interest, bringing together a wide range of people to have conversations that make a positive difference. Thanks to generous sponsors, this event has been free and open to the public. This past year, more than 350 people attended the symposium on Mountain Urbanism Mountain Modernism, that asked how we can build on existing assets to accommodate a projected doubling of the population over the next two decades.

Awarded high marks on our recent national review, the Master of City and Metropolitan Planning program at the University of Utah is now accredited until 2021. As the only accredited planning program in the states of Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, the University of Utah trains a large percentage of those who are stewarding the natural environment while guiding urban growth and development for the Intermountain West.

I have been blessed to be here during this time and have had the opportunity to work with truly inspired and inspiring students, an outstanding and dedicated faculty and a wonderfully talented and gracious community. As I transition to the Dallas-Fort Worth region of Texas, I wish to express my gratitude for their generosity, support and friendship. It has been an honor and privilege to partner with colleagues and community members in preparing future generations to co-create an ever more prosperous Utah and beyond.

A former chair of the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, Nan Ellin moved to the University of Texas at Arlington at the beginning of the year to serve as founding dean of a new college uniting the School of Architecture with the School of Urban and Public Affairs.