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Wasatch Front wants stroll-friendly neighborhoods

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People love to stroll.

Results of seven community workshops along the Wasatch Front in recent weeks show residents want more public gathering places in their neighborhoods, and they want to be able to walk in the areas where they live.The residents said choices are much broader than the common low-density or high-density housing discussion, according to Peter Calthorpe, president of Calthorpe and Associates, consultants to the project.

"People love to stroll. They love to stroll in their neighborhoods. They love to walk anywhere. They love main streets, much more than strip centers," Calthorpe said.

Nearly 400 residents saw slides that showed various ways Utah communities can grow as the population increases in the future. Officials from Envision Utah pre-sent-ed results Tuesday to more than 200 community leaders in another phase of an enormous planning effort that will shape Utah's growth into the next century.

The slides showed a variety of neighborhoods, business centers and transportation areas, including bus stops and crowded freeways. Residents were asked to choose which slides were more desirable.

An important result of the surveys, Calthorpe said, is residents are willing to move away from traditional "Ozzie and Harriet" scenarios if presented with likable options.

"For example, some multiple-family housing got higher marks than single-family housing where the multiple-family areas are attractive and appealing," Calthorpe said.

People want a mix of housing for all ages and incomes, and only 7 percent of the Utahns surveyed in the project said neighborhoods should be limited to private homes and open spaces.

"Given more complete choices, people aren't as locked into present development," Calthorpe said.

Residents reaction to the slides made several important points:

- A slide of a narrow, tree-lined street for example "looks like a real neighborhood." Another slide that showed one of Utah's famously wide streets wasn't neighborly and ranked lower in desirability.

- Another slide, xeriscaped with an attractive mix of desert-friendly foliage also was slightly more desirable than a slide that showed a lawn of water-thirsty grass. Although the green lawn illustrates how Salt Lakers have made the desert blossom like a rose, residents like the natural xeriscaping because it conserves water, was low-maintenance and attractive.

- Viewers also like bus stops with amenities like covered benches that take them close to their destinations. Those who drive wanted their commute limited to 20 minutes or less.

- Slides of a bike path separated from traffic was much more desirable than a bike path competing with cars for the roadway.

- A historic Main Street pattern was very desirable compared to a strip commercial setting with a string of box stores and lots of traffic. Viewers said the strip setting "could be anywhere" which works against a sense of community identity that seemed so important to them.

- Viewers also like less obtrusive signs. A McDonald's sign that was street-level that fit its surroundings was much more desirable than the traditional, four-story yellow arch.

- Viewers didn't like a slide that showed housing scattered up and down a mountainside. They seemed to prefer limiting development above a certain point.

Community leaders were working Tuesday to place several kinds of development on huge maps in the next phase of Envision Utah's planning program. Mayors, planners along with business and community leaders divided into small groups to plan how neighborhoods should look in the future.

Each group was given stacks of cardboard chips that represented various kinds of development. Some chips were for traditional kinds of development, such as activity centers, office/industrial parks, single-family areas and space devoted to large, rural-style lots.

More importantly, Calthorpe told the group, were the chips that designated "walkable" areas. These included town and village scenarios where participants were challenged to use nontraditional elements for designing communities.

Envision Utah is a public-private partnership led by Gov. Mike Leavitt and Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller. Its goal is to develop a long-term vision for Utah that preserves quality of life in preparation a population that will triple by 2050.