Guiding the Vision for Utah and Beyond Part II

Since its inception in 1997, Envision Utah has grown into one of the nation’s pre-eminent models for large-scale public participation. Earlier this week, we posted the first part of our interview with Kevin Fayles, Envision Utah’s community relations manager, who describes the group’s outreach efforts as a prime example of “democracy in action.”

In the second part of our interview with Mr. Fayles, he discusses how the group’s approach has influenced other organizations both in Utah and around the nation. The Envision Utah model, he notes, has made a mark in roughly 75 different metropolitan areas. In Utah, the group’s model has “changed the dialogue with respect to planning for growth,” Fayles says. The result: Everybody seems to be “speaking the same language.”

An invitation to a public open house for the Mountain View Corridor, a Utah Department of Transportation project influenced by Envision Utah.(Credit: Envision Utah)

An invitation to a public open house for the Mountain View Corridor, a Utah Department of Transportation project influenced by Envision Utah.
(Credit: Envision Utah)

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How was consensus for the preferred growth strategy measured?
In 1997 and 1998, the four scenarios of how the 10-county Wasatch Front could grow were finalized.  (Remember that these scenarios were based on extensive public involvement, values research, and technical analysis.)  Residents were asked what they liked or disliked about each scenario, rather than choosing a favorite scenario.  Twenty thousand Utahns participated in this review process (3,000 through workshops and 17,000 through an on-line survey.)  Based on further refinement, the QGS was created, based on elements from the four scenarios that received the greatest public support.  In addition, and this is a critical point, an independent poll also looked at the four scenarios and we were able to scientifically determine those elements that had the greatest support.

Two of the Envision Utah scenarios developed through public participation.(Credit: Envision Utah)

Two of the Envision Utah scenarios developed through public participation.
(Credit: Envision Utah)

The QGS was released in November 1999 as part of a large public awareness campaign.  As public awareness grew, so did community concerns, and even outright opposition.  Envision Utah was committed to resolving as much of this opposition as possible.  Much of the concern that surfaced originated from misinformation, which Envision Utah staff and board members worked to correct in a timely manner. One predominant theme was the idea that by accommodating growth Envision Utah was advocating growth.

By previously having one-on-one presentations with news organizations, reporters had resolved most concerns that arose later within the public and, therefore, did not react significantly to much of the public criticism.  Envision Utah has also proactively met with possible opposing parties before the public-awareness campaign, including with developers and conservationists.  After adequate communication took place, both groups seemed to express support for the Envision Utah process and goals.

Public input helped Envision Utah form the following criteria for proceeding with the QGS:

  • Use market-based approaches and incentives
  • Effect change through education and promotion, rather than regulatory means
  • Advocate incremental steps that can take place over time, provided the right regulatory and market environment exists
  • Primary responsibility for land-use decisions will, as it should, remain with local governments
  • Strategies must be tailored to each community’s unique character and needs
  • Strategies are not aimed toward restrictions or additional layers of government. Rather, they will help our communities and decision-makers provide a broader array of choices.

The Quality Growth Strategy was created in 1999. How have the outcomes from it been implemented since then?
I see the QGS as the ‘big picture’ that most everyone can agree on.  Its six goals are quite broad:

  • Enhance air quality;
  • Increase mobility and transportation choices;
  • Preserve critical lands, including agricultural, sensitive and strategic open lands;
  • Conserve and maintain availability of water resources;
  • Provide housing opportunities for a range of family and income types; and
  • Maximize efficiency in public and infrastructure investments to promote other goals.
Credit: The University of Utah

Credit: The University of Utah

At the time of its release, Envision Utah also released strategies to achieve these goals and communities were encouraged to use those that fit their local circumstances and goals.  Examples include the following:

  • Promote pedestrian friendly/walkable communities;
  • Preserve critical land and open space through re-use, in-fill development and conservation techniques;
  • Create a network of bikeways and trails; and
  • Foster development that supports transit by offering housing, work, shopping and play near transit stops.
Credit: Envision Utah

Credit: Envision Utah

Since then, Envision Utah has facilitated more than 40 local and regional visioning efforts that support the broad goals and principles of the QGS.  In addition, we have created more than 30 reports and resources as well as hosted more than 15 educational forums.  We are trying to educate local planners, developers, realtors, elected officials and others who are the likely implementers of these strategies.

Have any of the outcomes changed over the years?
The broad outcomes of the original QGS have not changed; however, we are now exploring a statewide vision for managing growth.  We would want to update the strategy with new technologies and emerging issues such as regional energy use, agriculture, air quality, changing demographics, and affordability.

What has been the most significant achievement of Envision Utah to date?
Leading metropolitan researcher Chris Nelson has said that Envision Utah makes a difference because “it is willing to take on scary projects that others avoid.”  Issues of land-use, environment and growth stir strong passions.  Attempts to address these issues often wilt in controversy.  By contrast, Envision Utah has been invited into regions experiencing political stalemate and has successfully helped residents find common ground and a consensus vision for the future.  Its innovative approach is replicable and overcomes skepticism often associated with government initiatives.

In Utah, I feel we have changed the dialogue with respect to planning for growth.  City councils and developers are speaking the same language: “We want walkable communities.”  “Let’s maximize infill and redevelopment opportunities.”  “How can we protect our quality of life while enhancing economic development possibilities?”  Around the country, our model of civic engagement has also proven to be successful.  I’ve often said that Envision Utah is democracy in action.  We’re facilitating conversations among regular citizens, elected officials, developers, environmentalists and others.  Everyone is invited to sit at the table and to share their opinions.

Envision Utah successfully encouraged the Utah Legislature to create the Utah Quality Growth Commission that distributes state funding for lands conservation and planning.  Land-use patterns of new developments along the Wasatch Front have become more sustainable.  Civic leaders credit Envision Utah with creating the climate for the successful launch of the light rail system.  I believe Utah is currently spending more per capita on public transportation and is the only region with commuter rail, light rail, bus rapid transit and street car simultaneously under construction!

The Utah Transit Authority TRAX light rail.(Credit: Utah Transit) Authority

The Utah Transit Authority TRAX light rail.
(Credit: Utah Transit) Authority

Do you know how many other communities have used a model similar to Envision Utah?  Can you provide some of the best examples?
Envision Utah has influenced some 80 regions around the country, including Envision Central Texas, Chicago 2020, South Carolina’s Upstate Forever, Sacramento Area Council of Governments, Baltimore 2030, and the Southern California Transportation and Land-Use Coalition.

Credit: Our Greater San Diego Vision

Credit: Our Greater San Diego Vision

For the past decade, Envision Utah’s recently hired President and CEO, Robert Grow, has been taking the Envision Utah collaborative, voluntary approach to other places throughout the country. He has helped initiate or strengthen regional efforts in more than 75 metropolitan regions. Most recently, he led the consultant team for the “Our Greater San Diego Vision” effort, which set a new national record by involving more than 30,000 participants in planning the future of the 3 million residents of the San Diego region.

Credit: Our Greater San Diego Vision

Credit: Our Greater San Diego Vision

What does Envision Utah do today and what are its plans for the future?
Envision Utah is currently involved with two major HUD grants, the first for the Wasatch Choice for 2040 and the second capacity building for other regions.

On October 15, 2010, HUD announced that out of more than a thousand applicants nationwide, a Wasatch Front partnership was one of only two to receive the maximum $5 million grant.  This partnership will focus on implementing The Wasatch Choice for 2040 (TWC2040), the foundation for our long-range regional transportation plan in Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah Counties.  In announcing the grant, HUD emphasized Utah’s record of successful collaboration and national leadership in engaging the public to build a livable region.  Envision Utah is co-leading this effort.  To date, more than 225 presentations have been given.

The Wasatch Choice for 2040 (WC2040) envisions new mixed-use villages and economic centers tied together by an efficient, modern transportation system. WC2040 is based on extensive market research showing that changing consumer demographics and preferences, increasing land and energy costs, and a growing desire to trade commute time for family and recreation time are driving demand for living in centers.  In short, it gives people the housing and transportation choices they want in a way that benefits us all.  Elected officials—who have ultimate authority to make land-use decisions for their communities—have reviewed and approved WC2040.

Credit: Envision Utah

Credit: Envision Utah

For the other HUD-funded effort, Envision Utah has been tasked to equip and assist other communities around the country with grassroots, market-driven scenario planning work.  In the spring of 2012, representatives from 39 states participated in Envision Utah-hosted webinars.  During the summer, Envision Utah staff went on the road to North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Ohio to provide training at regional conferences.  A major goal of these activities is to maximize public dollars through the sharing of efficient and effective tools and processes. In September, representatives from nine regions came to Salt Lake City to learn how to facilitate locally-driven planning efforts.

As mentioned previously, we are also exploring a statewide vision for quality growth, looking to update the original QGS with new technologies and emerging issues such as regional energy use, agriculture, air quality, changing demographics, and affordability.  We have a few other potential projects around the state and country.  It’s a very exciting time for Envision Utah.

– – –
Thank you Mr. Fayles for sharing your insights on the sucesses of Envision Utah. We are encouraged that your organization has pioneered a new approach to long range regional planning with public participation as its foundation. We look forward to seeing the influence of Envision Utah in many more community planning efforts.

The Collaborative Services Blog Team

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