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Utah County Residents Say They're Ready To Urbanize

Photo of Orem from above
Orem residents are considering ways to manage predicted growth in their city, and many say they want dense urban centers, more public transportation and increased walkability.

It’s no secret Utah is booming, and Utah County is expected to grow more than any other. By 2065, it’s projected to add more than one million people, accounting for 37% of the state’s population growth.

With that in mind, residents are looking for ways to keep that growth manageable. And many see urbanization as one of the main solutions.

Photo of three men kneeling in the fields of an orchard in Orem Utah
Credit Courtesy of the Orem Library
In the 20th century, Orem transformed itself from mostly fruit orchards to one of Utah County's biggest metropolitan areas.

Those findings come from the non-profit Envision Utah, which has been consulting with Utah County over how it wants to grow. In the second phase of a more than year-long study, residents were presented with five growth scenarios. 11,000 people weighed in, favoring the option that concentrates growth in dense, urban centers and provides easy access to jobs and entertainment. 

Utah County is currently 72% single-family housing, according to the report. But residents said they want to reduce the single-family stock to 61% by adding apartments, condos and townhomes. They also want more public transportation and increased walkability. Right now, the county has only 17 public transit routes, compared to 82 in neighboring Salt Lake County.

“I think in light of the growth that’s happening, people understand that we need to do something a little bit different so that we have housing options that people can afford and we don’t use as much land and water and chew up as much agriculture,” said Ari Bruening, CEO of Envision Utah.

The preferences mirror choices cities across the country are making as they struggle with rising housing costs. Increasingly, they’re looking to densify to solve not only a widespread housing crisis, but reduce commute times and preserve natural resources.

But not everyone is on board with a denser Utah. David Busath, chairman of the Orem Neighborhood Association and a biology professor at Brigham Young University, said Envision Utah’s findings overlook the fact that when young people start having families, they want houses of their own, with yards. 

“I don't think that's going to go away in Utah County just because of the growth projections,” he said. 

Busath said he’d rather see growth extend into Eagle Mountain and the southern part of the county, even if it is now mostly farmland. 

“We've already in the past 40 years turned Orem from a huge field of orchards into a huge field of single-family homes,” he said. “We've lived with that change. And I expect a similar change with the next million people that come to Utah Valley.”

For now, the plan has a long way to go before it becomes a reality. Bruening said the next steps are to share the results of the Envision Utah report with cities and other groups across the county, model the impacts and release a final version in April. 

“This isn't a mandate,” he said. “This is an exercise to understand what most people want and where they want to go.”

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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