Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Urban Sprawl and the Utah Lake Bridge

A group of groups, led by the Sierra Club, recently offered their idea regarding a potential bridge that would span Utah Lake: Don't build it.  The Daily Herald, in typical fashion, offered a poorly thought-out rebuttal to the rebuttal, on which I would like to comment.

They were first offended that Marc Heileson of the Sierra Club called it a bridge to nowhere, saying:
Bridge to nowhere? That's quite a slam. Utah Valley is nowhere?  One end of the bridge would land near 800 North in Orem. That's not only at the heart of the valley, it's likely to be even more bustling in the future. Close by is the planned transportation hub for the Frontrunner train line and the Bus Rapid Transit project.
He didn't say a bridge from nowhere, he said a bridge to nowhere.  Clearly Orem is somewhere.  A lot of people live there.  The other side of the proposed bridge, however, is nowhere, and that is a good thing, and it should stay that way.  Unfortunately, there are developers eying the west side of the Utah Lake like Utah Republican lawmakers eye fifteen year old girls in hot tubs (too soon? low blow? I couldn't resist.  I take it back).

It's a reminder, however, that the region has plenty of assets that draw people and keep them here. Those people need places to live and work, and the west side of the lake is a prime spot for growth. Growing numbers will need to get over to the lake's east side.  What all this means is that it's certain the Utah Lake boundary area is going to be developed, as is land farther west. The only question is how.
Why is it certain?  It does not have to be certain.  We can actually choose where we want growth to go, it is not some uncontrollable beast from which we cower.  Urban sprawl is a real problem for many reasons.  The more we sprawl, the farther we have to drive to work and church and school and the grocery store.  The more we drive the more oil we consume and pollution we spew into the air, and the less time we have to spend with family and friends and hobbies and helping others.  The more we sprawl the more we lose that sense of community that our pioneer ancestors cherished.  The more we sprawl the more we put pressure on natural ecosystems.  The more we sprawl the less open space we have nearby to enjoy and in which to decompress from our city lives.

The west side of Utah Lake where one end of the proposed bridge is located is largely undeveloped and if we want to keep it that way and avoid urban sprawl we can absolutely do it.  We can not build the bridge and not let the developers develop the land.  We can choose that, and we'd have good reason to do so.  We can choose to create higher density, mixed use neighborhoods on the east side of the lake.  We can choose the direction our growth takes.
Opposing citizens groups seem to be afflicted with a common attitude among the green crowd. It's worse than NIMBY -- not in my backyard. Their take is: "Not here, not there, not now, not then, not ever."  That's short-sighted. They'd do better to work to see that the inevitable development isn't just the haphazard growth that has plagued other communities.
The Daily Herald completely misses the point.  First, it is actually far-sighted to say that we are going to protect some of the last open spaces we have near urban centers.  We would surely regret the short-sighted action of low-density development far from the places we work just to enrich a few developers.  It is also far-sighted to engage in urban planning that keeps people close to the places they frequent to reduce traffic and pollution in the long-term.

Second, opposing the bridge and urban sprawl is making sure that growth is not haphazard.  It is forcing our urban planners to actually plan as opposed to just allowing more tract housing in previously undeveloped areas.  There is nothing inevitable about urban sprawl, as the Daily Herald wants us to believe.  Growth may be inevitable, but how we deal with it is up to us.

And that doesn't even touch on the environmental damage the bridge would cause to the lake, which is another issue altogether.


Daniel H said...

It's this sort of slip-shod thing that the Herald does that makes me want to start a rival, intelligent paper.

You've hit every point on the head that I would - every single development in Utah, every highway, every major road is at the behest of some developer, like the people who are doing everything in their power to fill the SLC valley to the Gills, so they're building the "West Side Freeway". Great. Just what we need. More roads. More cars. More smog. More inversion.

{ stepping off the soap box }

Mike S said...

"The more we sprawl the more we lose that sense of community that our pioneer ancestors cherished."

While personally I believe we should strive to combat urban sprawl (and fuel prices will help with this fight) I don't think our ancestors were good examples of anti-sprawlers. Farming communities by their very nature produce sprawl.

Jacob S. said...

I was referring more to the general sense of community that Brigham Young tried to foster which I believe we have generally lost. But if I recall the initial setup of towns during colonization was typically to have all the houses and shops in one centralized location with the farms spread out from there. Still a form of sprawl, of course, but not urban sprawl.

And you're right, as fuel prices increase sprawl will seem less and less appealing.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this blog by doing a Google search for 'Utah Lake bridge'. What a delight! Liberal Mormons. I feel like I just discovered a unicorn.