Monday, December 26, 2011

The Plat of Zion: New Urbanism On The Sprawling Wasatch Front

I attended a meeting recently with the Wasatch Front Regional Council to discuss transportation, mass transit, and future development along the Wasatch Front.  The topic of high density development came up.  We acknowledged that most of Davis and Salt Lake Counties had reached a point where future housing development would be constricted by available land.  However, I was curious about Weber County and how many years of developable land remained.  I wanted to know how many more years we had before economic conditions would bring an end to suburban sprawl and force higher density development and in-fill within existing communities in Weber County.

Interestingly, when I posed this question several individuals in the room expressed their opinion that we had already reached that point.  I wasn't presented with any data, but the point was to suggest that we need to start looking at ways to develop more sustainable and integrated  We need to look at rethinking our community design with the automobile as the keystone of a fulfilling and comfortable lifestyle.

I read a brilliant essay this week that takes a look back at Utah's urban planning history and explains how we got to where we are today and makes suggestions on where we go from here.  The lessons from this essay are highly enlightening and I believe embody the qualities we need to adhere to as we plan for the future of our urban centers.

Here is a copy of the essay as it was sent to me:

Building Zion
One of the lessons gleaned from this essay regards the importance of personal association. It was important in the early days for people to cluster together for several reasons including cultural experiences and education opportunity. The automobile and the internet have made such close proximity unnecessary today.

However, from an LDS theological perspective, such proximity is still necessary so that the Priesthood can be exercised and administered. It is not possible to administer the sacraments via Skype or set apart someone to a church office via Twitter.  Theologically speaking, there must be a physical interaction of humanity in order to bless humanity.  Hence, the high density Plat of Zion design.

Regardless of religious affiliation, there are many other temporal benefits to such a design that bless the masses:  Community cohesion and a wise use of limited resources being dominant ones.

It is my hope that the public becomes more knowledgeable about this subject and that communities across the Wasatch Front can begin to articulate how these ideas can benefit their towns.  As we make plans for the future, may we be careful stewards and make judicious choices.


  1. I agree that we have already reached the point where we should be considering higher density development, and building "up" instead of "out". however, this position is often misconstrued to mean that "we" are going to force people to live in cramped apartments and walk to work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Higher density development will merely broaden the available housing choices. The current, heavily subsidized suburban sprawl approach promotes an over-dependence on the car, and converts valuable farmland to grass and pavement. Why would we continue to do this until we run out of land? Why not stop now and offer the housing choices that many segments of our population want? When your kids go to college, you might want the low maintenance of a 5th floor condo with a mountain view instead of dealing with 1/4-acre of yardwork. When you're 24 maybe you want to be downtown where the action is, instead of out in suburbia where you're the only house without kids..... we need options, not more cookie cutter houses in western Weber County.
    We will continue to build the large homes that some people want. that's fine, but let's build other housing types before we use up the land and contribute to the Dec/Jan brown haze. We can discuss public subsidies for sprawl another time ;)

  2. What you have spoken makes simple sense and prepares us for the future regaining of simplicity and order. This is what makes sense for the whole country. This is what makes sense for our cities. This is what makes sense for my little neighborhood. Sounds like you are keeping the two Pillars straight ahead in your mind's eye.


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