Salt Lake City is losing population again, after a few years of rare growth during the administration of Mayor Deedee Corradini. No one seems to have a concrete reason as to why, but some members of the City Council are ready to nudge residential growth to large tracts of land west of the airport — land that experts for years have been touting as the city's last, best chance for new housing.

The mayor's office is worried that rezoning western lands for residential development would only encourage sprawl, but that doesn't have to be so. Nor should the city do as some in the administration suggest and wait 10 years or more until TRAX is extended to the airport. New developments can be pedestrian-friendly and urban in nature without necessarily having the benefit of rail transit.

For an example of this, the city need look no further than the Daybreak development in South Jordan. Located in a remote location of a bedroom community, it is an example of how a development can be planned in such a way as to encourage walking and neighborhood interaction. Kennecott Land, which owns more than half of all the remaining developable land in Salt Lake County, is the developer. Eventually, it plans to bring light rail in to further enhance the project. In the meantime, however, officials report that home sales are brisk.

Of course, cities have to concern themselves with more than just growth. In Salt Lake City's case, an increase in only residential units would be nothing more than a huge expense. The property taxes homes generate do not cover the entire cost of providing emergency services and other city amenities, and that is particularly true when the development is a long way from the rest of the city.

But if a market exists for housing in the city's northwest quadrant (where some of the land is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this newspaper), retail surely would follow quickly. In the meantime, Kennecott Land has long-range plans for industrial development near the airport, as well, which would provide a necessary tax base. The city should proceed cautiously with a master plan for the area, but it still should proceed.

The capital city's dwindling population is more than just a matter of pride. The rest of Utah continues to grow at a brisk pace. Wasatch Front suburbs show no signs of slowing their development pace. With each passing year, Salt Lake City's clout in the Legislature will continue to diminish, as will its ability to attract federal block grants and other important programs to help the city's diverse population.

Short of consolidating the entire county into one large city, Salt Lake City has few choices more attractive than encouraging growth westward.