New study shows that Utahns continue to prefer sprawl

Residents of the Wasatch Front, Utah’s largest urban area, overwhelming prefer the suburban lifestyle according to the results of a newly released study by the Utah Chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI). For Wasatch Front residents, the status quo is embraced as 95 percent of respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied are generally satisfied with Utah’s quality of life.

Utah’s population is growing and the majority of that growth will come from the four counties that make up the bulk of the Wasatch Front: Utah, Salt Lake, Davis and Weber Counties. Roughly 8 out of every 10 Utahns already live in the Wasatch Front.

But accommodating both future population growth and residents’ current preference for sprawl will be difficult if not impossible.  According to the ULI study, while residents prefer single-detached homes with sufficient space between houses, they also want walkable communities with ample recreational and green space.  Residents also prefer neighborhoods that are less car dependent, yet most don’t prioritize transit access when looking for a home.

The ULI study’s findings match those of past studies affirming the region’s strong predilection towards detached homes with large lot sizes.   A 2014 study by the NumbersUSA Education and Research Foundation found that Utah had the second fastest rate of sprawl in the country between 2002 and 2010.

Residents along the Wasatch Front are significantly more likely to prefer a single-family detached home over other housing types.  Nationally, 61 percent of respondents expect to live in a detached family home in the next five years, compared to 75 percent of Wasatch Fronts residents.

Home ownership rates are significantly higher in Utah’s largest urban area.  Nearly 80 percent of Wasatch Fronts residents own their home compared to 62 percent nationally.

Wasatch Front residents are much more likely to desire walkability than the national average.  Residents mostly likely to move in the next five years were more than ten points more likely to prioritize walkability when purchasing their next home than the national average.

Nearly half of Wasatch Front say they prefer to live in a walkable, less car-dependent neighborhood.  The same percentage of residents also want more bike lanes in their communities. Yet only 25 percent of Wasatch Front residents ranked convenient public transit as a top priority, compared to 33 percent of Americans.

While the study’s results may be discouraging to local urban planners, residents in Salt Lake County, who account for nearly half of the Wasatch Front population, are more open to urban living.  Salt Lake County residents are three times more likely to expect to live in multi-family housing than Davis and Utah County residents and are two times more likely than Weber County residents.

The majority of Salt Lake County residents prefer to live in a walkable neighborhood with 69 percent of Salt Lake county residents said that living in a walkable neighborhood is most important.  In comparison, only 60 percent of Davis County residents placed walkability as a top priority while less than half of Utah and Weber County residents (47 and 49 percent respectively) placed a high priority on living in a walkable neighborhood.

Salt Lake County residents are more likely than most Americans and twice as likely as Utah and Weber Counties to make access to public transit a high or top priority.   Thirty-five percent of Salt Lake County residents want to live near convenient public transit, compared to 14 and 16 percent of Utah and Weber Counties respectively.

Wasatch Fronts residents favor sprawl yet overwhelming value quality of the environment, which includes air and water quality.  Residents listed the quality of the environment as the top community priority in deciding where to live.

Because most jobs and activity centers are in urban centers, sprawl increases the average travel times for both work and play and in turn increases air pollution.

A 2014 report released by Smart Growth America with research from the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center, also found that sprawl had health and economic consequences.  According to the report, “sprawl has been linked to physical inactivity, obesity, traffic fatalities, poor air quality, residential energy use, emergency response times, teenage driving, lack of social capital and private-vehicle commute distances and times.”

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Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.