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The Great Horizon Year of 2020

January 1, 2021 by Ted Knowlton
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The Great Horizon Year of 2020.


In the 1990s I was a young planner engaged in my first long-range planning efforts while working with my mentor John Fregonese.  These included helping the Envision Utah Quality Growth Strategy effort that looked out to the distant year of…(wait for it)…2020.   2020 was the first established long rang horizon year of my young planning career.  In the 2020 year of COVID-19 and the last year of Trump’s presidency, the Quality Growth Strategy’s celebration year has been partly lost in visibility.  Back in the 1990s as we looked out to the year 2020 my colleagues and I had many hopes and expectations.  This article reflects on what we thought about that distant future compared to how things turned out.


In the 1990s as we thought about 2020…


We hoped that communities in Utah would warm to the use of planning and zoning.  At that time many communities saw the very act of city planning and zoning to be an unwelcome activity.  Intrusive government.  I didn’t really foresee the day that planning would be embraced in Utah as it truly has, although so often now it used to exclude people of more limited means from our communities (as it has been used throughout American history).  Perhaps we have embraced its misuse?


We hoped that transit would succeed in Utah.  This was before the first Trax light rail line.  So much progress has happened here!  Communities have accepted transit and the state legislature has warmed to transit especially compared to the early 1990s.  Yes, we could not foresee the nature of the challenges that transit now faces.  We had no clue of a pandemic and how it could upend life as we know it.  We had no clue of connected or autonomous vehicles.  We had no sense that telework might explode.  I continue to have hope for transit and also believe it is essential for a more livable and sustainable Utah.


We hoped that communities would embrace walkability.  I believe this has happened! I recall in the 2000s coming to the realization that all communities in Utah, just about, want to be walkable.  Almost all communities want at least one place that both feels good to walk within and enables purposeful walking.  While that is true, many (most?) communities are still not willing to embrace all the ingredients that help a walkable community flourish such as increased development intensity (in strategically located nodes), parking reform, connected streets, in addition to the more easily grasped accepted pedestrian-oriented site design and enabling a mix of land uses.


We hoped that a mix of housing types would be welcomed.  This has largely occurred since the early 1990s, although we clearly can’t claim “success”.


We hoped that downtown Salt Lake City would become a vibrant heart of the state.  This is well underway!  Thanks to a strong marketplace for downtown living and working and great leaders and staff.


We hoped that strong activity centers would grow in many suburbs.   New downtowns, enhanced main streets and town centers.  Lots of positive progress here.


We hoped but doubted that sprawl would not expand into new valleys.  We were right to doubt.


We didn’t really even hope or foresee a strong interest in bicycling.  We were myopic to the promise of this historic mode of travel.


We hoped for cleaner air.  A lot of progress has in fact been made on air quality.


Truthfully, we had only partly focused on inequalities in those early plans.


We hadn’t yet even started meaningfully thinking about climate change.


We didn’t even begin to see the threat that a decline in the local newspaper (nationwide) would have on our cities, state, and nation.  We also didn’t see the battle over basic facts.  We didn’t foresee the power of social media in discourse even at the local level.  We didn’t even begin to see how much animosity would invade the public discourse at many levels of government.


Overall, more good has happened in Utah than bad over the last quarter-century in my opinion, but our challenges are as significant as ever.  


It takes many years to shape city culture, attitudes of residents, even our own levels of expertise.  And of course, our cities are the amalgamation of placemaking that stems from time.  I’ve enjoyed and have been honored to serve as your Chapter President over the last four years.  The planners in Utah are some of the very best people!  I’m glad to be one of you and to count you as my friends.  I hope you all have a terrific 2021 and that we can bury some of our ills in 2020.  Let’s take the long view in 2022, er 2021 :-).  


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