Utah seeks public input and solutions with state growth survey
“Growth is Neutral” – The state launches a wide-ranging effort to collect opinions on housing, water, transportation, open space and recreation challenges.
After a decade of nation-leading population growth followed by a pandemic surge in immigration, Utah and its fate as a growing state have never been clearer.
Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday urged residents to prepare for a “more” future and urged them to speak out on the pressing challenges, particularly in the areas of housing and water supplies, transportation, open spaces and access to recreational opportunities place.
“Growth is neutral,” said the Republican governor at the event in Red Butte Garden, which overlooks the widening trough of the Salt Lake Valley. “It’s up to us to decide if it’s good or bad.”
[Recent polls show Utahns have become increasingly wary — and even negative — about growth. Read the story.]
By launching a new poll, titled “Guiding Our Growth,” Cox wanted to amplify an ongoing nationwide discussion about the public’s wants and best ideas as the increasingly urbanized population grows from about 3.4 million today to a projected 5.5 million by 2060 increases.
After an audio tour of Utah’s key regions, his government is officially gathering more feedback with the interactive survey at Guidingourgrowth.utah.gov.
Only through sound planning, the governor and other officials said when opening the poll Thursday, can the state preserve what is dearest to its residents.
“We want to make sure,” said Cox, “that this is a place where our children and grandchildren can have the same great lives that we have.”
Utahans have until August 31 to participate in the rapid, scenario-based survey created and sponsored by Envision Utah and other regional planning agencies.
The polling effort also comes at a time when public sentiment in Utah has begun to shift toward negative views of growth for the first time in nearly three decades.
When compiled and analyzed by the end of the year, the results will provide information on growth-related issues at city halls and on Utah’s Capitol Hill: housing affordability, conservation of green space and recreational activities, and convenience of transportation and water conservation amid an epic drought.
Fastest growing, more to come
Utah’s population increased by a whopping 18.4% over the decade to 2020, the fastest in the country. Almost 70% of the population now live in urban areas. According to Mallory Bateman, Utah’s senior demographer at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, research suggests that most increases in the coming years will be in existing population centers in Salt Lake, Davis, Utah, Weber, Washington and Washington counties cache can be achieved.
Last year, Utah experienced its largest increase in population growth in a year due to inward migration, in part because the economy opened up relatively early compared to other states as the COVID-19 crisis eased. And that population increase due to immigration, Bateman said, is expected to be the norm by 2040.
She also said the population is expected to continue to grow relatively older and more diverse, even as average household size shrinks.
“With these insights,” Bateman said, “is an opportunity to reflect on Utah’s future.”
In addition to public policy information, officials sought to make an economic case for foresight and vision in planning the state’s future, noting that hiking trails, affordable housing and easy transportation were key to recruiting a talented workforce.
“The things that make Utah the greatest state in the country we must preserve to ensure they stay here for decades to come,” said Steve Starks, CEO of the Larry H. Miller Co. “That is not the case just happened. We can be acted upon – or we can choose to act.”
What are your “big ideas”?
The interactive poll offers options for no growth and limitations on development, although these ideas are unlikely to be picked up in a state as politically conservative as Utah.
“The problem with solutions like this,” Cox said in an interview, “is that they just make things more expensive and worth living for everyone.” Water is one of the biggest.”
The online survey features short explanatory videos on the highlighted challenges and candidly guides residents through the trade-offs of various growth strategies before asking them to select their preferred scenarios.
In the second half, participants can choose from lists of strategies, called “Big Ideas,” that they might like to see explored in their own communities. There are also three versions of the survey, adjusted by zip code, for those living in fast-growing urban areas and for rural residents who are either experiencing growth or not.
“We share what the public has shared with us and solicit input,” said Laura Hanson, state planning coordinator at the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. “Our goal is not to replace local planning processes, but to support these processes with public information.”