SALT LAKE CITY — The struggling Family Center in Taylorsville is at a crossroads.
Some of its big-box stores went out of business. Thousands of square feet of retail space sit vacant. Traffic moved elsewhere.
"The area really is a little bit of a dead zone right now," said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
It also might be a model for planning what a neighborhood should look like in the future as the Wasatch Front continues its rapid growth. Salt Lake County intends to work with Taylorsville to revitalize the area, which might include green space, mass transit, restaurants, residences and even big-box stores.
"Do we want it to be another sea of parking with stores, or do we want it to look different?" McAdams said.
To bring a new vision for the shopping center to life, the county and city intend to use a high-tech toolbox that a group of planners, professors and politicians associated with Envision Utah developed to help Wasatch Front residents shape their cities and neighborhoods.
Using a $5 million federal grant, the Wasatch Choice for 2040 Consortium spent three years creating tools communities can use to picture and plan for the future. One of the goals is to put work and play closer to home, with shorter commutes and more mixed-use communities, McAdams said.
At the same time, Gov. Gary Herbert launched the "Your Utah, Your Future" initiative to plan for and manage the challenges that will come with an estimated 2.5 million new residents in the next 30 to 40 years from Cache Valley to St. George.
“In Utah, we don’t believe in sitting back and seeing where growth will take us,” Herbert said. “Together, we will develop a voluntary, locally implemented, market-driven vision to help keep Utah beautiful, prosperous, healthy and neighborly for current residents and future generations.”
The statewide effort will seek Utahns' ideas on air quality, water, energy, transportation, housing, economic development and other growth-related issues.
"This should be a bottom-up approach," Herbert said, adding he wants a consensus strategy in place before the end of 2015.
The online tool kit allows local leaders, planners and residents to understand housing, transportation and development needs, create and analyze different paths for growth, and understand how to overcome barriers and create places within communities that support their views of the future.
"Once more, Envision Utah, working with more than hundreds of public and private sector partners, will play a critical role in bringing together the citizens throughout the state to find solutions that will benefit not only today’s residents, but also our children and grandchildren,” said Dan Lofgren, chairman of the Envision Utah board of directors.
In 1999, Envision Utah led a community effort to develop the Quality Growth Strategy that helped the Wasatch Front prepare for 1 million new residents. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget estimated the plan would save $4.5 billion over 20 years, said Robert Grow, Envision Utah president and CEO.
The strategy resulted in 25 percent less water use per person and growth consuming 100 square miles of open land instead of a projected 300 square miles, he said. Also, the Utah Transit Authority has built 135 miles of rail lines during that time.
Envision Utah will organize eight task forces to look at specific growth issues. The governor has already announced two dealing with water and air quality. The teams will develop key questions about the future to present to the public next year for comments and ultimately a plan.
“Because new tools are now available and our state faces emerging challenges, we want to partner with a new generation of leaders and citizens to prepare for the 2.5 million more residents who will call Utah home by 2050," Grow said.
McAdams said the toolbox will help communities lay out a computer model for zoning changes, housing needs, transportation options, poverty concentration and open space requirements. It will allow them see the impact of their plans not just locally but regionally.
"What we're trying to do with this is think in the short term and act in the long term," he said.