Nicole Boliaux, Deseret News
"From the beginning, it was clear that Utahns and their local governments would reject centralized planning. No one wanted state government or any top-down organization telling local citizens and their communities how they would grow. A founding principle of Envision Utah was that local citizens and their city and county officials would control their own destinies."

Twenty years ago, a major growth challenge loomed squarely in Utah’s future. Utah was one of the country’s fastest-growing states (as it is today), and most of the population and development was concentrated along the 80-mile Wasatch Front corridor.

This rapid growth made Utah one of the most urbanized states in the country, with all the problems of crowded metropolitan areas — congested highways, urban sprawl, high infrastructure and housing costs and poor air quality.

It became clear to visionary leaders in 1997 that haphazard, chaotic growth was a serious threat to Utah’s life quality and its future. Those leaders, including Gov. Mike Leavitt, determined that, rather than lurching year to year and reacting to current conditions, long-range planning was needed, using quality growth principles.

That planning effort, which started as a special subcommittee of the Coalition for Utah’s Future, formed in 1988, was the beginning of Envision Utah. Today, Envision Utah has emerged as the nation’s leading bottom-up, collaborative planning organization. Its mission has expanded to deal with education, agriculture, housing, air quality and other aspects of creating healthy communities.

It has brought together diverse community leaders, including all levels and branches of government, business executives and experts from a broad array of disciplines. Its leadership team has been a who’s who of visionary Utah leaders.

From the beginning, it was clear Utahns and their local governments would reject centralized planning. No one wanted state government or any top-down organization telling citizens and their communities how they would grow. A founding principle of Envision Utah was that citizens and their city and county officials would control their own destinies.

Thus, community planning and zoning regulations have always been left in the hands of local leaders and their citizens.

But Envision Utah would offer experience, research and state-of-the-art planning tools and, most importantly, help citizens and leaders understand the impacts and consequences of various growth scenarios.

Today, local leaders and citizens can partner with Envision Utah to undertake a visioning process that will reveal how citizens feel about different growth scenarios once they understand their costs and consequences. This process helps build consensus and empowers citizens and local leaders to control the future and guide growth of their communities according to the desires of citizens.

Quality growth saves money on utility infrastructure, reduces highway congestion, protects open space, reduces water consumption and improves air quality. Envision Utah’s collaborative visioning process has helped reduce water use by 25 percent since 1998; cut air emissions in half since 2002; supported 140 miles of rail for public transportation; reduced the average lot size for a single-family home by 22 percent, and preserved more than 200 square miles of land that otherwise would have been developed.

Envision Utah’s visioning process has become a national model and has been lauded in dozens of national articles and publications. It has been taught in more than 100 regions across the country and has resulted in greater collaboration to solve problems and create bright futures.

Today, Utah faces another period of even stronger growth. By 2050, an additional 2.5 million people will call Utah home. The Wasatch Front will be one dense metropolitan area. Growth will spill east and west into Wasatch, Summit and Tooele counties and north and south into Box Elder and Juab counties.

It’s going to take a lot of work and careful planning to sustain Utah’s enviable quality of life in the face of such growth.

Envision Utah will be there to help, bringing its decades of relevant experience, state-of-the-art tools and an always-collaborative, informed approach to help communities and citizens control their destinies and keep their communities beautiful, prosperous, neighborly and healthy.