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Utahns looking to the not-so-distant future want a resilient state less reliant on the outside world for food and energy, with an economy diverse enough to weather a downturn. They want shorter commutes and cleaner air, top-quality education and greater access to the state's natural wonders.
To achieve these goals, they are willing to live on less land, tap less water and pay more in taxes, all while accommodating 2.4 million new neighbors.
Envision Utah has released the final results of its two-year "Your Utah, Your Future" study, an unprecedented effort to gauge the views of residents with an eye toward 2050. Among those invested in this project are Gov. Gary Herbert and the Salt Lake Chamber, among numerous local elected officials and nonprofit groups. Nearly 53,000 Utahns responded to a survey offering different paths forward on issues ranging from agriculture to the cost of living. To view the results, go to yourutahyourfuture.org.
Robert Grow, president of the planning organization, said the takeaway is "Utahns are optimistic. They have high expectations for the future." They also care deeply about their children and the state they will leave behind.
"It is a great mix to get things done," he said. "It is the secret to Utah's success."
With the help of 400 issue experts, Grow's team took the survey results and crafted four "cornerstones" needed to model a state that is more secure, prosperous, caring and clean. Here is a look at each of those areas and what would need to change in the next 35 years to achieve this vision.
'A network of quality communities' • Historically, most of Utah's cities were centered around a thriving main street, but as the metro area became more congested, it evolved into a major downtown and suburbs. This study suggests the state must do more to reverse that trend, making it easier for people to live, work and recreate close to home, dropping the need for long commutes and reducing the smog we breathe.
This vision calls for smaller downtowns or "town centers" throughout the metro area, which could take root in retail areas negatively impacted by the rapid growth in online shopping.
"We can take advantage of this market trend," according to the report, "to re-establish and strengthen the historic pattern of centers in our existing communities."
This works only if areas have a variety of housing options and are interconnected by transit. Roughly 81 percent of those polled were willing to allow more apartment complexes, duplexes, town homes and other high-density housing in their neighborhoods.
Some ancillary benefits of such dense, urban growth would be people who are more physically active, a decrease in cost of living because people would pay less for transportation and a reduction in pockets of poverty.
'Homes, buildings, landscaping and cars of the future' • To cram more people into the state and not harm the environment, the study says most Utahns are willing to add better insulation to their roofs, walls and windows to reduce the pollution released by homes, expected to be the top source of air contaminants in the future.
The majority of survey respondents are concerned about air quality and want to set a goal of reducing pollution by 40 percent. This may take new building codes, and the study suggests that if policymakers are going to tinker in that area, they should also impose greater earthquake standards. Utahns who live in houses constructed of unreinforced brick should also consider a retrofit.
The study says the state should pursue strategies to replace vast lawns with more native, drought-tolerant plants to reduce per-household water usage.
When it comes to vehicles, the survey found that Utahns are willing to shift to cars that pollute less, but they also are in favor of cleaner fuels. That would include low-sulfur gasoline, which would take a major upgrade to the state's oil refineries, something that won't be cheap.
'A thriving rural Utah' • At the request of the governor, this statewide study paid particular attention to rural concerns, since by 2050, the state estimates that 250,000 more people will live in outlying areas. The study suggested the state should boost agriculture incentives with a twofold goal: increasing the amount of Utah-grown food consumed in the state and stabilizing farming jobs.
Right now, Utah farmers produce big quantities of grains and meat, mostly beef, essentially enough to feed the state's population. But Utah grows far fewer fruits and vegetables than needed. The survey suggests a tenfold increase in that area. One possibility are "microfarms" in urban areas.
The study also suggest increasing access to outdoor recreation on scenic land, while continuing mining and energy development. To prevent flooding, the study calls for more watershed management. To assist telecommuters and boost job growth, it calls for continued investment in high-speed Internet connections.
'People prepared for the future' • Nearly 78 percent of respondents say Utah should make major investments in education with the goal of cracking the top 10 in U.S. academic performance. That would take a 5 percent increase in school funding each year through 2020 (25 percent total) and a greater effort to offer publicly funded preschool programs and voluntary all-day kindergarten.
Residents want state leaders to expand financial assistance for higher education and to keep tuition as low as possible.
Schools should act as community centers, offering after-school programs, job and language training, and health services.
A more educated populace would lead to a stronger economy, greater electoral participation and reductions in crime, according to the report.
Next step • Turning "cornerstones" and visions into reality may be far more difficult than conducting a mammoth survey. But Herbert said the first step is creating a detailed plan.
"In Utah, we don't believe in sitting back and seeing where growth will take us," said the governor. "Instead, we proactively work to make sure the Utah of tomorrow is better than today."
It would take government action, creating new regulations and possibly raising taxes. Business and consumers would have to make smart investments and in some ways change norms, such as moving away from big, green lawns.
Grow said his organization would measure progress in these areas as the calendar inches toward 2050. He cautions that this is a starting point. "Some of these things are going to take some time and we need to understand that."