Steve Baker, Deseret News
View of Salt Lake City from Bonneville Shoreline trail.

The population of the Wasatch Front is expected to grow by nearly 1.5 million people in the next 30 years.

It is an astonishing prospect.

In three decades, Salt Lake City will be a metropolitan area more populous than current Denver, St. Louis, Portland, Kansas City or Cleveland.

In other words, a truly big city, densely urban, with all of the attending challenges.

So, how will the residents of this future metropolis assess their quality of life? Will they be happy with their residential circumstances? What about their recreational opportunities? Will a daily commute be a nonissue or a nightmare?

All are questions that will largely be answered not then, but now, and that is why it is comforting to see so many recent efforts at getting our collective heads around the consequences of exponential population growth.

A coalition of civic leaders gathered recently under the auspices of the Wasatch Choice for 2040 Consortium, a group assembled via a federal grant intended to help local communities work together to create templates for responsible planning.

Separately but similarly, government leaders also met in recent days to discuss planning and zoning policies as they impact the canyons of the Wasatch Front. We all presume the future denizens of northern Utah will appreciate an ample supply of clean water, as well as ample opportunities to recreate in the backcountry and at developed resorts.

Such has long been the principal challenge of effective civic planning — to find balance among competing interests. Environmental and conservation concerns often collide with efforts to encourage economic development. As population grows, those collisions are bound to be more common and more contentious.

That is why it is also comforting to see planning efforts with an eye toward a 30-year horizon happening as we speak. While the Wasatch Choice group was discussing ways to facilitate more use of mass transit, the Salt Lake City Council was acting to halt plans for a traditional, automobile-oriented development along 400 South.

The council voted to impose a temporary zoning change to prevent development of a retail establishment across from a TRAX rail station that was designed to have a traditional storefront behind a parking area—not in concert with the city's increasing inclination to encourage, if not mandate, more walkable, transit-oriented projects.

The developers involved may or may not be discouraged by the city's decision to play goalie against their commercial designs, but it was recognition by city leaders that decisions made now must take into account future as well as present interests.

Those who originally settled the Salt Lake Valley were exceptional planners, with a long-range view of how the layout of a community may either accommodate or intimidate future growth.

In that tradition, it is important we embrace the reality that even the small planning decisions we make now will have huge impacts on those who will inherit the community we leave behind.