But that profile is growing as record wintertime inversions force new policy questions on how to lessen pollution by cutting the sizable share of smoggy soup that spews out of automobile tailpipes. State regulators estimate that as much as half of polluting emissions come from vehicles much of it belched out when cold engines first fire up.
Zakia Richardson lives in Daybreak's East Lake Village with her husband and two grade-school kids. The children walk to Daybreak Elementary. The Richardsons enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, know their neighbors, hike and bike regularly and canoe together on man-made Oquirrh Lake come summer.
"I love the community," the New York native said. "I love what it offers, not only for myself but also my family."
In key ways, her family's walks represent air-quality solutions. Tools such as improved fuels, trip reduction, car pooling and telecommuting are garnering new attention, but planners and policymakers also are looking to land use and neighborhood designs especially with the prospect of adding up to 1.9 million Wasatch Front residents by 2040.
"Communities like Daybreak represent a chance at giving people options," said Keith Bartholomew, an urban planner and interim dean at the University of Utah's College of Architecture and Planning. "Driving is still possible but not mandatory. I believe Daybreak does a very good job with this.
"It's not a perfect development," he said, "but no development is."
Walking is embedded in Daybreak's model, with higher housing densities, smaller yards, space-saving home floor plans and designs, clustering around retail centers and an extensive trail system all aimed at getting residents out their cars. Reviews are mixed so far, but positive signs do surface.
A 2010 U. study found 88 percent of school-age students living in Daybreak walked to or from school at least once a week, compared to 17 percent in an adjacent community, with a street system of cul-de-sacs and bigger home lots.
To a leading Utah planner, each choice to let the kids walk means at least two fewer cold engine starts per soccer mom. And addressing vehicle pollution is as much about eliminating trips as shortening them, said Ted Knowlton, deputy director at Wasatch Front Regional Council, an intergovernmental planning group.
"That's where a community that is walkable makes such a difference," Knowlton said of Daybreak's early impact. "Where they're at now, they're on pace. There is so much of that community that is left to be built."
Love it, loathe it • Since it opened the first housing villages in what will be a 4,127-acre site, Kennecott's community-making has proved popular with homebuyers. Nearly one in six new homes sold in the county are in Daybreak, accounting for about $1 billion in total home value since 2004.
Many Daybreak residents cite walkability and TRAX access as reasons they moved there, though they mention small frustrations over the lack of food shopping nearby and the many rules enforced by Daybreak's homeowners' pacts. They commonly praise its network of trails, interlaced parks and the short walks to school, church, community hubs and features such as SoDa Row, Daybreak's small but expanding retail cluster.
"What they've created is a place people love," said Robert Grow, president and CEO of Envision Utah, a regional planning group that crafted key controlled-growth ideas underlying Daybreak's plan. "They've created a demonstration of community building that is centered. It's got the right kinds of components in it to make a great lifestyle."
But Daybreak has detractors and its rising influence brings into sharper relief Kennecott's dual role.
Parts of Daybreak are built on a recovered mine waste site. The cleanup saw countless truckloads of tainted topsoil removed and replaced with fresh dirt under supervision of state officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Kennecott officials insist the remediation made former evaporation ponds far safer than government regulations required. The costly cleanup also targeted groundwater contamination and has become a source of pride for the company and its parent corporation, global mining giant Rio Tinto.
"It is a shining example of what can be achieved with post-mining land use," said Kyle Bennett, a top Kennecott spokesman. Grow, who also has worked as an attorney for Kennecott Land Co., its land-management arm, said Rio Tinto built Daybreak on portions of the site to showcase a commitment to sustainability in its mining worldwide.
"They wanted a demonstration place," Grow said, "where they could put the president of a country on a plane, fly him to Utah and say, 'When we're done mining your country, this is what we'll do with the site when we're finished.' "
The 'air' apparent • In terms of air pollution, the company's mining operations are a major and, physicians warn, worrisome source of health-eroding emissions, especially fine particulate pollution known as PM2.5. The latest tally from the Utah Division of Air Quality in 2011 pinned a total of 10,031 tons of pollution emissions, including breathable particulates, on Kennecott's three main facilities in Salt Lake County.
The company accounted for nearly half the monitored emissions dumped into the air by the county's top 127 industrial pollution sources, according to the DAQ list.
Bennett maintains Daybreak does not lessen Kennecott's sense of accountability to regulators or the public for its heavy footprint on Utah's airshed, which he said the company works on many fronts to reduce.
"Daybreak is an unusual arm of our business, but it is not designed to detract from those contributions," he said. "We understand and own that we are 5.8 percent of yearly PM2.5 in the valley."
Many remain skeptical about how Daybreak plays into the company's public-relations strategy.
John Prehn, a retired immunology researcher living in Salt Lake City, sees a contradiction in Kennecott being a major industrial polluter and, at the same time, a proponent of wise land development.
"They sound very responsible, but when you look into the variety of pollutants that come out of their operations, it's pretty horrendous," said Prehn, who has sought to highlight Kennecott's emissions of lead and other heavy metals. "This alone makes a housing project downwind of the mine untenable for a civilized society."
Yet a harsh Kennecott critic, who is part of a lawsuit to halt possible growth in its emissions, gives the company credit for Daybreak.
"We often demonize them, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing something valuable," said Brian Moench, a Utah anesthesiologist and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "I'm not going to second-guess their motives, but they've deviated from the L.A. model of urban sprawl in a way that is generally beneficial for this community."
Many residents elsewhere in the valley disparage what they see as Daybreak's fabricated suburban identity, its out-of-the-way locale and its theme-park feel. Some question its planning values, saying its design remains car-centric and may worsen existing problems.
"It's monstrous," said Kevin Dwyer, a Salt Lake City attorney with expertise in sustainable housing who advocates on behalf of Utah athletes seeking cleaner air.
"Putting a population center a fairly great distance from where they're working is not a great strategy for reducing air pollution," Dwyer said. "If they keep going the route they're going, they're missing a great opportunity."
New urbanism, old sticking points • No Utah community has deployed this kind of sustainable planning on the dimensions of Daybreak. With 3,800 houses built, the development is projected to grow to 20,000 homes by 2030, supported by commercial buildings spanning at least 9 million square feet of retail, office and industrial space.
It is an example of "new urbanism," an early 1980s vision meant to encourage walkability by mixing housing types, recreation hubs and employment centers. Daybreak's live-play-work master plan emerged from an in-depth blueprint published by Envision Utah in 2000 after public hearings on ways the most populous counties might grow, while keeping a desirable quality of life.
Transit is key. Streets in Daybreak interconnect, instead of hitting dead ends typical in more traditional subdivisions. Homes, yards and parks also connect, undivided by unsightly fencing, making a saunter down the block more appealing. Green spaces are always near.
Neighborhood layouts mesh with mass transit, although many residents wish there were more UTA bus routes. Land managers helped lure the TRAX extension to Daybreak by paying a share of environmental study costs. Westbound trains terminate on specially designed platforms, right next to a sparkling new U. medical center and campus.
Cars stream in and out of Daybreak every day along West Daybreak Parkway despite the two light-rail stops. TRAX ridership is growing but with about 1,000 jobs in Daybreak, hundreds of residents who don't have home businesses commute by car to work in Sandy, Salt Lake City and other cities.
Daybreak's commercial district hasn't reached critical mass, many residents say. The nearest grocery store is a short drive away as are popular restaurants and retailers, located just east across Bangerter Highway in The District complex.
Daybreak's future town center a massive strip Kennecott has set aside for decades from now when the project builds farther west will some day adjoin a segment of Mountain View Corridor, a four-lane state freeway connecting the west sides of Salt Lake and Utah counties. Daybreak's planners already have designed a sophisticated frontage road system for swift traffic flow on and off the highway from residential areas.
Daybreak's plan also addresses other major pollution sources: homes, commercial buildings and small businesses.
No single house or store is a gigantic polluter in the valley not when compared to Kennecott's smelter or the region's power plants or oil refinery smokestacks. But small inefficiencies in residential energy consumption scale up rapidly over the number of households.
State regulators estimate that as much as 25 percent or more of Utah's air emissions emanate from homes and buildings.
"There are so many of them," said Dave McNeill, manager of planning at DAQ. "People are just now barely starting to recognize the impact of their cars. And that's easier to perceive than for them to realize what's going up their chimney or out of their water heater or their furnace."
The Daybreak effect • Unlike the standard approach in which cities regulate zoning standards, Kennecott has a partnership with South Jordan that lets it set Daybreak's rules for builders. Those agreements require strict design, architectural and efficiency standards.
The development's commercial buildings are LEED certified, a green building barometer that stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. The homes all comply with the federal Energy Star system, with efficiencies on items ranging from home appliances to construction.
On top of that, would-be homebuyers can compare houses based on a separate Home Energy Rating System, or HERS, in which a score of 100 equals a standard new home.
The system creates a market incentive to drive down scores, according to Daybreak's general manager, Ty McCutcheon.
Average Daybreak homes are 40 percent more efficient than their counterparts elsewhere and, in some cases, up to 65 percent.
"When you aggregate the impact of all those homes," McCutcheon said, "it's quite significant."
In another sign of the Daybreak effect, many of its leading builders are using those house designs and energy-efficient standards in other communities.
Davis County-based Destination Homes, one of the state's largest builders, has incorporated elements of Daybreak's neighborhood layouts, spacious porches and smaller lots into its subdivisions farther north. Garbett Homes forged building techniques for low-energy use with its Daybreak homes that are now a company mainstay.
"Some of those ideas really started in Daybreak," said Bryson Garbett, president of Garbett Homes, which specializes in solar power and thick-walled designs that shrink power consumption. "Those requirements and attention to detail have raised the level of homebuilding valleywide."
Other ideas presented by Daybreak feed into the soul-searching over responsibility for the Wasatch Front's worsening air. A recent Utah Foundation study, for example, found perceptions on the role of driving in the inversions have lagged behind reality.
State officials have come under intense criticism for estimates that put industry's share of key emissions as low as 11 percent of the total air pollution load. Advocates of tougher rules for industries such as Kennecott say their portions are much higher and that the state's low-balling deflects attention away from soft industry regulation.
"We're being told that we're the problem," said Michael Woodruff, an emergency-room doctor and member of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "And while that's true to a certain extent, and we all need to own that, it is not as it seems."
State regulators, meanwhile, counter that focusing on industry pollution risks shifting attention away from a more productive public message.
"People are going to do less on their own if they can blame somebody else," said DAQ Director Bryce Bird. "Without changes to our driving habits, mass transit and shifts in travel lifestyles, we aren't going to solve this problem."
In other words, one family car at a time.
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Daybreak: Answers to air pollution?
As part of an occasional series on Utah's air pollution, The Salt Lake Tribune looks at Daybreak, a mixed-use development in South Jordan, built by Kennecott Utah Copper and its parent company, mining conglomerate Rio Tinto. Begun in 2004, Daybreak uses a master plan based on sustainability and reducing reliance on driving, a key source of air pollution.