THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT the year 2000 that makes the future sound so imposing - and a lot further away than it really is.

In many ways, the difference between 1988 and 2000 will probably be pretty much like the difference between 1976 and 1988: Bigger, faster, newer, but nothing as astonishing as global peace or time travel. The turn-of-the-millennium is, after all, only 12 years away, even though it has a much more distant ring to it.

But it's that distant ring that has inspired a growing number of people to think - and plan - ahead in a way that no mere change of decades ever has.

In Utah, as the 21st century beckons, there has been a proliferation of groups trying to avoid future shock by outwitting it. Trying, as Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Zimmerman puts it, to make sure "we don't let the future just happen."

Downtown development consultant Walker Wallace, who sits on the boards of several future-oriented groups, has been involved in city planning efforts since the days of the Second Century Plan of the 1960s. "There are more committees now working on downtown and community problems than I can ever remember," he says.

Sometimes it gets difficult to keep all these groups straight. So here's a scorecard of the key players. We won't know their batting average, though, till the future gets here.

PROJECT 2000

Begun in 1985 as an outgrowth of a KUTV documentary but now a separate, non-profit entity, Project 2000 tries to size up the future impact of present issues and to serve as a catalyst for informed, reasoned planning.

The 22-member board of trustees includes a cross-section of Utah mover/shaker types, including Di Allison, past president of the League of Women Voters; developer Dick Prows; Stephen A. Goldsmith, chairman of the Urban Design Coalition; and John Florez of the Utah Industrial Commission.

A tiny staff oversees projects such as Kidspeak, town meetings and the production of TV documentaries (which have been approved as a core curriculum requirement for Utah social studies classes). Issues tackled have included economic development, education and the state of the family. Next month, Project 2000 will host a rural economic development summit in Cedar City.

The Coalition for Utah's Future

The premise for this group's formation last year is that the state has been operating in a leadership vacuum - a void created by the irony that the state runs under a homogenous political system largely dominated by white, Mormon men, while at the same time, some say, the LDS Church no longer chooses to provide leadership in state affairs, preferring instead to define itself as a worldwide church.

Created last fall after a Project 2000-sponsored retreat at Pack Creek Ranch, the coalition hopes to create "new alliances for problem solving" that include minorities and women. It has set up task forces to provide leadership in areas such as child care and transportation and is currently working to defeat the tax initiatives.

The 34-member group includes such diverse leaders as T.H. Bell, Calvary Baptist Church pastor France Davis, Utah AFL-CIO president Ed Mayne, Ruth Novak of Hercules, and Karl Snow, executive vice president of BYU.

Salt Lake City Tomorrow

Mayor Palmer DePaulis's ambitious undertaking began nearly two years ago as a means of involving the community in strategic planning for the city. Following public debate and interviews with over 100 community leaders, the Salt Lake City Tomorrow Committee last year published a "blueprint to guide choices for the future."

Today, individual committees meet regularly to focus on areas such as downtown vitality, economic development and human development.

The Urban Design Coalition

Letting the future "just happen," the Urban Design Coalition worries, might mean we end up with a city that is an eyesore, hard to get around in and no fun to live in. An arm of the Salt Lake Arts Council, the Urban Design Coalition works to develop an awareness of urban design among the community at large. This fall it will sponsor its fourth annual Urban Design Awards.

The coalition was responsible, along with the Utah Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the board of directors of the Central Business Improvement District, in bringing the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) to Utah.

R/UDAT

The R/UDAT (pronounce it Roo-dat) team of nationally recognized architects swooped into town last spring for a few days and took a fresh look at Salt Lake City. After looking, and holding a public hearing, the team released its findings in a 66-page book called "Our Future By Design."

Its recommendations range from the broad (we need a single vision for downtown development) to the specific (build a 20,000-seat arena at the Salt Palace Complex) to the unusual (bring City Creek above ground downtown).

A local 75-member steering committee is now pondering the recommendations further in weekly subcommittees. Already the group has been successful in translating a R/UDAT idea into reality: legislation passed this month to create a municipal parking authority.

One of the main goals of R/UDAT, says local architect John Pace, is "to people the downtown again."

Mission 2000

A grass roots effort serving Weber, Box Elder and Morgan counties, Mission 2000 has an enviable 300 volunteers who meet regularly in task forces dealing with issues such as economic development, arts and education.

Modeled in part on San Antonio's Target 90, Mission 2000 was launched two years ago with private donations and funding from the Private Industry Council. The goal is a better quality of life for the tri-county area; the method is long-range planning that seeks to bypass the short-term limitations of politics.

GOVERNMENTAL ENTITIES are also thinking hard about the future these days. Of course agencies like the Wasatch Front Regional Council have been trying to look at the big picture for years. The council was the catalyst for current explorations of a light-rail transportation system for the Salt Lake valley.

The state Office of Planning and Budget spends a lot of its time looking into the future, based on statistics from the recent past, as does the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Gov. Norm Bangerter got out his crystal ball recently, hosting the Governor's Conference on Utah's Future. And for the past year the State Office of Education's Strategic Planning Commission has been at work drafting a five-year plan for public and higher education.

The 30-member commission, which hopes to have a final draft of its mission statement by October, is made up of representatives from business, public and private education, teacher organizations, the Legislature and the PTA.

And finally, the Legislature earlier this year formed the Economic Development and Long-Range Planning Committee. Explains committee chairman and House majority leader Nolan Karras, R-Roy: "Most of our committees deal with nuts and bolts. Projects, specific bills, a waste management plant in Delta. . . . We wanted a committee that could raise its head above the trees and see the forest."