What would you do if your family of five became a family of 15? Where would the additional people sleep? Would you have to eat in shifts? And how about transportation - would everyone be able to drive to where they want to go?
The above scenario is what the state of Utah is facing in the next 50 plus years along the Wasatch Front. According to projections, the current population of 1.6 million in that area will increase a little more than threefold to 5 million by the year 2050, necessitating substantial changes.The only way the massive population increase can be accommodated without substantial upheaval is through wholehearted cooperation between local and state leaders. Vision and commitment are absolutely essential for Utah to effectively handle the issues surrounding growth in the 10-county Wasatch Front area that consists of Weber, Morgan, Salt Lake, Utah, Tooele, Davis, Box Elder, Summit, Wasatch and Juab counties.
So far, those two items are in small supply. According to market analyst Roland Robinson, who addressed planners, developers, and real estate agents at the E Center in March, Utah's urban sprawl is the worst in the nation.
During the past five years - boom years by anybody's reckoning - Utahns have built about 100,000 new homes on 70,000 acres. That computes to an average of 1.4 units per acre. The national average is at least five to eight units per acre.
That trend has got to change drastically for Utah to deal with the upcoming population boom.
We have advocated that Gov. Mike Leavitt and the Legislature take the lead in supplying the vision and in making the commitment to deal with those issues. The governor has done a good job articulating the challenges facing the state and now needs to lay out his vision on how best to deal with them. The Legislature, unfortunately, as evidenced by this year's session, has thus far abdicated its role. It can't afford to do so any more.
The governor and Legislature will need lots of help as was evidenced by a workshop Tuesday sponsored by Envision Utah, where planners, mayors, community leaders, city council members and state officials met to help decide what the Wasatch Front will look like in 50 years.
The exercise was one of enlightenment and frustration as various officials tried to put cardboard chips - each representing 16,000 people - into a growth pattern that made sense and accommodated 5 million people along the Wasatch Front.
The task is so daunting that Utah's largest homebuilder, Ellis Ivory, said "We will never have this population." He questioned planners' assertions that social pressures will cause the situation to change. "I've been in this valley for 30 years and I've never seen the trend reverse. It's always lower density."
Market analyst Robinson's study supports Ivory. But while history shows the trend has not reversed, and has in fact gotten worse, continuing along the same path is unacceptable.
Utah's sons and daughters and grandchildren deserve a thoughtfully-planned population center. Tuesday's workshop was a good step toward focusing on needs that have not been addressed nearly enough.
Time to go back to the drawing board.