Density and Design: How We Grow Allows More of Us to Connect Our Lives

BY ARI BRUENING

When density meets thoughtful design it reduces driving and creates vibrant, walkable places.

Utah has been one of the fastest growing states in the nation for decades now, and that’s not a bad thing. It means our economy is booming and that our kids are able to stay. However, how we grow matters when it comes to the impact on quality of life.

  • Our most urbanized counties are already pushing up against our mountains, and adding another ring of suburbs means building on the other side of the mountain range. As land supply goes down, housing prices go up. That’s one reason we’re now seeing a greater variety of housing —
  • small lots, apartments, townhomes and condos. And again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It helps our kids afford to live here and it allows more of us to live, eat, play and shop near the places we work. It can mean less traffic, better air and less outdoor watering.

Density without design can have bad consequences, but when density happens in town, village and neighborhood centers — think of the main streets we used to build — it reduces driving and creates vibrant, walkable places.

Three Key Elements of These Kinds of Centers:

Housing

Every commercial or job center should include housing. This is a way to accommodate density while reducing driving and improving air quality.

Connectivity

Early Utah settlers’ grid-pattern street system is still a good idea. A center should make it possible to travel from nearby housing to work or shopping using local streets — not just wide arterials or freeways.

Thoughtful Parking Design

Large parking lots are tremendous barriers to walking and biking — and they’re wasteful, since much of that parking will rarely, if ever, be used. Reducing parking requirements and re-arranging parkingso it’s located behind buildings or on streets, makes a real difference.

We’re at a critical point in Utah’s history. There’s a lot of growth headed our way, and how we build our communities to handle this growth will determine a lot about our quality of life — for us, our kids and our grandchildren.

Ari Bruening is CEO of Envision Utah.

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