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Rising from the Desert: A 15-Minute City is Coming to Utah

May 1, 2023 by Nicole Mason

15-minute cities are a trending urban planning topic that has long been discussed academically and is now slowly being implemented across existing cities in Europe. But now, the first 15-minute city is being designed and built from scratch in Utah. Dubbed “The Point”, the new 600-acre city will be located just outside Salt Lake City, and will be a redeveloped former state prison site where new jobs, housing, public spaces, amenities, and transportation will serve almost 15,000 people in an attempt to explore a prototype for how innovative urban planning concepts can improve the public health and wellness.

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Illustrative Masterplan. Image © The Point Utah

While Paris was the first to introduce and take actionable steps toward creating a 15-minute city, its planning principles have quickly caught on in other parts of the globe. In Europe, the goal of redesigning cities in this manner is to make daily tasks more accessible by walking or bike rides, but this isn’t the case in US cities- largely due to the amount of urban sprawl and the resulting reliance on cars to get from place to place. While there have been attempts to become less car-dependent, with projects including a new development underway in Arizona which claims to be a completely car-free zone, The Point in Utah acknowledges that residents will still need access to cars- but just less frequently than in other cities. Instead, they’ve coined the term “one-car community” where they expect families to only need one vehicle per household.

The Point’s vision is to create an iconic community that focuses on healthy living while also creating new jobs and housing that will allow residents to live, work, and play in the same area. By designing for ease of mobility, creating an 18-hour district where there are things to do for a majority of the day, and the right combination of new residential types, office space, and supporting infrastructure, the goal is to be a pioneer in how new cities can be built across the United States in the future.

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Green Space- Central Park. Image © The Point Utah

The benefit to The Point is that it creates an opportunity to develop something brand new, instead of having to modify existing cities and their resident’s habits. It also allows for careful recognition of so many of the urban inequalities that we face around the world today- whether it be outdated planning approaches, remnants of segregated neighborhoods, and lack of access to amenities and public parks. It’s an opportunity to implement the physical designs we praise with the urban planning policies that we believe will make cities better for all. Instead of having to choose between highlighting one aspect of urban life over another and preventing the inevitable silo of economic development, social services, health and wellness, transportation, and city planning schemes- we can possibly have all of them recognized equally.

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Business, Technology, and Innovation District. Image © The Point Utah

Its master plan, created by SOM, is designed si that from the center of the city to its farthest outskirts is around a 10-15 minute walk that is connected by a string of open spaces that take residents to different parts of the city. The center is a mixed-use core with vibrant retail and entertainment centers, an innovation accelerator, and other educational functions. Office space designed specifically for corporate headquarters is located to the east side (and is also visible from a highway system) institutional anchor tenants on the south side, research and development centers to the north, and residential units to the west.

Streets will still make way for vehicular access, but will also heavily prioritize space for bike lanes, large sidewalks for pedestrian access, a new bus system that will also take residents to the nearby cities of Salt Lake City and Provo, a shuttle that will take loops around The Point, and access to shared scooters, cars, and bikes. The multiple parks and open spaces will feature naturalized landscapes that contribute to an increase in biodiversity by treating all landscaped elements with stormwater collection systems.

Because The Point is situated on a former prison site, which is owned by the state of Utah, the government went through an intensive due diligence process of gathering community input and feedback on how the site should be designed and developed. The project is expected to begin its first phase of construction in 2024.

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