I was really quite surprised to read comments attributed to R. Thayne Robson in the Deseret News dated Aug. 13, comments that were allegedly made before the Envision Utah group. I have always had a high regard for Robson and still do. He spoke at length about the habits of people and his view that people might answer a poll in an affirmative way about wanting more "walkable" neighborhoods but that they don't really behave that way.
I don't know where Robson lives, but in my neighborhood in Salt Lake City, people walk in the neighborhood all the time. My neighborhood contains a mix of lot sizes and home prices. Whenever a house is available in our neighborhood, it usually sells to someone within the neighborhood before it hits the market. People "buy up" and they "size down" without having to go very far.That's the behavior that those of us who espouse the return to traditional neighborhood developments believe is found among home buyers. It isn't true that people always look for the larger lot. Were this so, how does Robson explain the great popularity of homes that are found in the area from 1300 East to 2100 East and from 900 South to I-80 in Salt Lake? The majority of those lots are from 5,000 to 7,000 square feet.
If Robson believes that people will not shop at neighborhood shopping areas, how does he explain the popularity of the small retail establishments at 1500 East and 1500 South or the fresh vegetables market at 1100 East and 1300 South?
Perhaps one of the reasons Robson believes that people will not buy the traditional neighborhood with small lots and parks and jogging trails is that such a project is not offered anywhere. The only new offering in the commercial marketplace is the same old suburban sprawl project that eats up our land and leaves no public space. As a contrast, in our most recent community in Draper, Centennial Heights, we built a neighborhood park. People love it. We also built part of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail through our property. People who live there use it every day. The Urban Land Institute reports that the amenities that people seek the most are jogging and biking trails and parks. Golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools are way down the list of priorities.
In our new Farmington Greens project, we have planned for smaller lots, dedicated substantial parcels for open space and planned for neighborhood commercial projects. We are putting our own money at risk to make this project go; that is how much we believe that the behavior of people has changed.
The baby boomers are getting older. The U.S. Census Bureau says that in the United States today, 75 percent of the households are headed by singles, "mingles," empty-nesters or couples without children. They are not looking for large lots and big houses. I hope Robson will look a little deeper.
I believe that Utahns ought to have a choice between the sterile old subdivisions that continue to be built and something fun and exciting such as our Farmington project. When people have a choice of community types, then Robson can make observations about their behavior. When they only have one choice, their behavior is a foregone conclusion. The work of Envision Utah is on the right track. They are telling the political and real estate establishment that people do desire better residential alternatives than they are being offered. Maybe we should listen.