"Smart growth" is more than a clever catch phrase. It's a philosophy about land use that focuses on making neighborhoods functional, liveable and committed to open space.

For years, Envision Utah has schooled elected officials about the many benefits of responsible urban planning. The public-private partnership encourages development that preserves critical lands, promotes water conservation and clean air, encourages use of mass transit and provides housing options for people in all stages of life.

Now, with the west bench of Salt Lake County poised for development, local elected officials have a remarkable opportunity to put those principles to work. Kennecott Lands, which owns more than half of the developable land in the Salt Lake Valley, has asked the Council of Governments, which includes leaders from all local governments within the county, to offer its vision of the future development of 93,000 acres along the Oquirrh Mountains.

In many respects, Kennecott's land is a blank slate. It provides the perfect opening to create communities that will ensure quality of life for Utahns for generations to come. It's an invaluable opportunity.

Kennecott Lands' Daybreak development in South Jordan embraces many elements of what is considered the best of smart planning — pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, an unprecedented amounts of open space and a reasonable mix of residential, commercial, retail and industrial space. Kennecott Lands has a working model from which to start the discussion of how to develop the rest of the county.

The involvement of elected officials helps to ensure that the development of the west bench is a collaborative process that gives credence to other voices. The Salt Lake County Trails Advisory Board, for instance, has raised concerns that new growth will block off lands for future trail systems. The board raises a very important issue. The Council of Governments has agreed to write a letter to the Utah Legislature seeking state funding for a trails study to identify and preserve trails for biking, walking, hiking and other uses.

It is hoped that the council, as it moves along in this planning process, will continue to be nimble and open to others' ideas as this opportunity unfolds.