Arthur C. Nelson

The University of Utah's College of Architecture + Planning increased its stature Tuesday by the appointment of a national expert on the growth of communities and urban sprawl.

The melding of metropolitan areas into "megapolitan" regions has been examined by newly appointed presidential professor Arthur C. "Chris" Nelson, who has researched such effects nationally as well as in the Salt Lake Valley.

"Growth along the Wasatch Front in Utah could jump from 2.5 million today to 7 million people by 2050," he said. "We must prepare our communities now to meet the challenges brought about by this growth."

Nelson, who has been recognized by various and popular media outlets in the world, joins the faculty at the U. as a presidential professor and will not only direct courses but work with community leaders to plan for growth in Utah.

He predicts that more than double the current buildings will need to be built to accommodate population growth of up to 500 million people in the country. Rather than continue to spread the urban footprint outward, Nelson advocates filling in already-built areas, thereby creating a synergy between existing and new land uses.

"We have a surprising amount of space in our urban areas," he said during a meeting of the American Planning Association. "We can easily triple the population in our urbanized areas with much of that growth occurring on, of all things, parking lots."

Recently, the U. has been exploring options to better use the vast lot at its Rice-Eccles Stadium. Various mixed-use projects have been proposed, but officials have yet to make a decision on the matter.

Nelson mentioned that the Salt Lake, Ogden and Provo areas have much promise in the realm of managing growth and preserving landscapes and "critical open spaces."

"We have the luxury of being able to reshape the built landscape into one that is sustainable and resilient," he said.

Brenda Scheer, dean of the U.'s College of Architecture + Planning, said Nelson's interests and expertise align nicely with the direction the college is taking.

"As our faculty and students emphasize city and metropolitan growth in their academic work, his activities will offer unprecedented access to cutting-edge research, academic study and model community partnerships," she said.

Nelson comes to the U. after working as the director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. Before entering academia, he managed a West Coast consulting firm in planning and management, and he continues to provide professional planning services.

In 2001 he became a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, joining Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and U. professors Morris Johnson and Eugene Carr as the only four with such status in Utah. Nelson has served the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as an expert on smart growth management for both the Clinton and Bush administrations. He began his duties at the U. on Tuesday.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com