Quality Communities

Project Description

Communities along the Wasatch Front are facing a challenge: by the year 2050, our population will nearly double. Constrained by geographic factors and with many cities already almost built out, where will this new population live? Where will they work? Where will they be able to find services, recreation, and amenities? These questions are even more significant for people of low to moderate income. Will the cost of living in a decent neighborhood increase inequality and income segregation while limiting access to opportunity?

As our population grows, housing prices may increase as stock becomes more limited. It may become increasingly more difficult for people with lower incomes to find affordable housing in good neighborhoods with access to jobs, services, healthcare, healthy food, good schools, and other elements that make up good quality of life.

However, we have the opportunity to think ahead about our patterns of growth and plan for a future that can meet that challenge. By creating or restoring a pattern of mixed-use centers throughout communities in Utah, Utahns of all incomes, ages, and abilities can have the opportunity to live in desirable neighborhoods with the things they need nearby. Centers combine housing with places of employment, shopping, services, recreation, and other amenities to create a broader mix of housing within communities and greater access and convenience for Utahns to their daily needs.

In particular, mixed-use centers help improve the ability for those with lower incomes and historically underprivileged minority populations to find affordable housing and live in great communities, increasing opportunity for them and their children. When mixed-use centers are located in lower-income areas, they can revitalize the neighborhood and provide greater access to opportunity. When they are located in higher-income areas, they can provide housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income populations in places that already offer great opportunity.

Mixed-use centers also allow people to reduce their cost of living—including the amount spent on housing, transportation, utilities, taxes, fees, etc.—so Utahns have money to save for the future or spend on other things. Centers bring destinations closer to people, allowing access by walking, biking, or taking short car trips. Further, a well-spaced network of centers paired with an efficient system of public transportation helps reduce or eliminate physical barriers to jobs and services. As a result, this pattern of well-connected centers makes life more convenient for residents and is particularly beneficial to Utahns—often of low income or minority backgrounds—who do not currently have reasonable, convenient ways to access their daily needs or who cannot afford to live in places with good schools and other opportunities.

In addition, building a less car-dependent community structure can have a significant effect on household savings—on average $10,230 per year in cities with robust public transit infrastructure, which can free up approximately 10% of the household income for an average family.  These savings are particularly critical among low- to moderate-income households.

Several market trends over the coming decades will create an unprecedented opportunity to re-enliven Utah’s communities by creating these mixed-use centers. For one, the growth of internet sales will cause many brick-and-mortar retail locations to turn over. This will present new opportunities to reshape strip malls, big box stores, and older commercial areas into centers with a range of housing types, jobs, community gathering spaces, and access to services like healthcare.  This trend dovetails with another growing trend—the desire for a greater diversity in the housing market. Analysis from the Robert Charles Lesser Company (RCLCo) shows that while a preference for single-family homes will continue to prevail, there will be a shift over the next three decades toward townhomes and other attached housing products to maintain affordability—a shift that is already occurring as the housing market still has not shifted back to its pre-recession levels of single-family market share. 

Envision Utah’s Your Utah, Your Future process demonstrated that Utah residents are in agreement that it is important to plan for these shifts and believe that as we grow, we must:

  • Provide a full mix of housing types (townhomes, duplexes, apartments, single family homes with a variety of yard sizes, mother-in-law apartments, etc.) that maximizes how many people can afford decent housing.
  • Build communities that are designed for walking, transit, short drives, and housing varieties in order to improve the convenience of getting around without a car and to reduce the cost of living for all households.

By increasing affordable housing options for all Utahns, providing access to services and amenities, and bringing jobs closer to where people live, restoring and building an organized pattern of centers across the greater Wasatch Front is one of the greatest tools we have to ensure that every Utahn can succeed, regardless of their circumstances.

The goal of this project is to establish a range of centers that will make it easier for residents to access affordable housing, jobs, healthcare, childcare, education, recreation, and other daily needs within a short car trip or by public transportation, walking, or biking. Establishing this range of centers in communities along the Wasatch Front will help revitalize older commercial areas, many in low- or moderate-income areas or in underserved neighborhoods. This will help meet essential community needs for services, jobs, and housing.

A particular area of emphasis will be addressing the need for affordable housing in a diverse range of communities. Housing will include a variety of different housing types ranging from single-family to townhomes to multi-family. Some issues that will be addressed with communities are how to structure zoning to allow a sufficient supply of a full variety of housing types, while mitigating impacts to existing neighborhoods; and how to provide opportunities for subsidized housing in each community so that those who can’t afford market-rate housing can still find a decent place to live.

What Are Centers?

Centers are hubs of activity where housing, shopping, employment, and recreation congregate. They come in a variety of scales, ranging from a neighborhood center to an urban center. A neighborhood center serves a single neighborhood and might just include a school, a park, a church, and compact housing, while an urban center is a traditional downtown that is accessible to many thousands of people. Other varieties of centers (e.g., village and town centers) serve multiple neighborhoods. Centers should be walkable and include access to public transportation. Building a variety of centers improves accessibility and convenience, air quality, travel options, physical activity and health, cost of living, and other aspects of Utah’s quality of life.

Process Overview

TASK 1: PARTICIPATE IN SMALL AREA MEETINGS AS PART OF WASATCH CHOICE 2050

WFRC is convening a series of meetings with groups of cities/counties to solicit input into the 2050 RTP. Envision Utah is participating in those meetings to share Your Utah, Your Future results and help facilitate the discussion. Envision Utah will participate in this process through at least the first round of meetings, and likely the second round as well. Similar meetings may be held with MAG.

TASK 2: WORK WITH A “QUALITY COMMUNITIES” IMPLEMENTATION COMMITTEE

Envision Utah will convene a small group of key thought leaders to identify the barriers to vision implementation and ways to overcome those barriers. The group will include developers, brokers, lenders, planners, cities, religious institutions, school districts, and others. Their work will inform a list of key implementation steps and the creation of educational materials and toolboxes. The group may also decide that state-level policy changes are required, and members may pursue these policy changes.

TASK 3: CREATE EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS AND TOOLBOXES

Based on the work of the implementation committee and with the group’s assistance, Envision Utah will create educational materials and toolboxes to be shared with cities, developers, and other key actors.
Existing Envision Utah materials, many of which are dated, will be leveraged as a base for these new materials.

TASK 4: WORK WITH INTERESTED CITIES TO FORM IMPLEMENTATION VISIONS

Envision Utah will invite interested cities to work with Envision Utah through a brief visioning effort that will demonstrate the use of the implementation tools and materials. These efforts will utilize market expertise and stakeholder involvement to ensure a realisticallyimplementable vision—not necessarily for the whole city, but for key areas where centers can be built. The steps that could be included in an effort tailored to a specific city could include any or all of the following:

  • Public and stakeholder workshop regarding centers (deliverable:
    summary of input)
  • Follow-up workshop with city staff about implementing centers
    (deliverable: report regarding potential centers and implementation
    strategy)
  • Envision Tomorrow Plus modeling of city-level scenarios (deliverable: scenario modeling report)
  • Public and stakeholder workshop to vet small-area or city-level scenarios (deliverable: report of public input, centers vision, and implementation strategy with demonstrated public support)
TASK 5: CONVENE A “QUALITY COMMUNITIES” ACADEMY

Utilizing the work of the implementation committee and the educational materials that have been generated, Envision Utah will convene an academy that teaches practical planning and implementation concepts to cities, developers, and others.

TASK 6: SHARE EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS AND TOOLBOXES WITH CITIES

Envision Utah will use a variety of channels to share educational materials and toolboxes with cities. These channels will include the Wasatch Choice 2050 small area meetings, direct presentations to city councils, conferences, the “quality communities” academy, newsletters, and earned media.

TASK 7: ADVISE IN CREATION OF WASATCH CHOICE 2050 SCENARIOS AND VISION

Envision Utah will work with WFRC and MAG as they generate the Wasatch Choice 2050 scenarios and vision to ensure that the work of the implementation committee is considered, so that the resulting vision reflects market and other realities. WFRC and MAG will perform the actual modeling work, and Envision Utah will act as an advisor.