The Western United States is changing rapidly. From responding to increasing populations and changing climates, to accommodating shifting economies and novel household arrangements, Utah and California planners are grappling with many new, complicated issues. “Envision Utah” and “Vision California” are regional planning responses to these emerging demographic, economic, and environmental problems. While both imagine a more ecologically and economically sustainable future, they differ in vision details, plan contexts, and planner roles. Utah’s plan with its grants for local planning agencies and California’s plan with its numerous, new environmental policies both raise interesting questions about planners’ interactions with the public and state government.
Contexts Informing the Reports
Utah’s 2008 Governor’s Office Planning and Budget (GOPB) Baseline Report provides a basic picture of how Utah planners have framed the state in their work. The document notes Utah’s rapid transition from a lightly populated, largely rural region to one with burgeoning population and economic growth (“Envision Utah Executive Summary”, 5). The state currently has “little pollution” but fears pollution will be hard to keep under control as population increases rapidly, agricultural lands are developed, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) skyrocket (8-10 and 13). Though state water usage has declined recently, concerns about population and water conservation are also mentioned (11). Status quo responses to this impending growth are projected to result in a 70% increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 (12). According to the report authors, the reasons for this increased growth in Utah are a strong economy that may attract more in-migration and a native population that has many large, young families and increasing life expectancies (9).
California has already seen lots of growth in the past and is expected to have a continued increase in population. With a large population and lots of development already in place, California has strategic infrastructure and services revamping to consider. This makes regional planning more difficult in some ways, but also provides preexisting development data for new models, like Vision California’s Urban Footprint and Rapid Fire Spreadsheet (“Vision California,” 1-3). Like Envision Utah, Vision California projects population growth, increased VMT and GHG emissions, in some future scenarios. It also highlights the importance of synergy between state environmental policies and complementary changes in land use and transportation markets (3, 4).
The Utah report presents seven planning goals to be promoted by the regional plan. They are:
- Protecting Our Air Quality by creating more walkable communities
- Creating Transportation Choices by promoting better congestion-reduction methods and more public transportation options
- Preserving Critical Lands by encouraging “market-driven” and “voluntary” solutions to preserve recreation areas
- Encouraging Water Conservation by increasing conservation education and better community design
- Housing Options for Everyone by “working with communities and developers” to better respond to market changes and to provide affordable housing
- Efficient Infrastructure by “growing thoughtfully”
- Community Friendly Economic Development by discouraging careless development and emphasizing and enhancing Utah’s quality of life
Overall, there is an emphasis on encouraging market-based development of smaller, walkable communities to help mitigate impacts of expanded growth.
“Vision California” presents a similar vision but with a very specific focus on land-use and transportation investment impacts on sustainability goals. The aim of “Vision California” is to:
- Highlight high speed rail opportunities
- Focus on land-use impacts on GHG emission reductions
- Illustrate connections between land use and other problems like water and energy use, public health, housing affordability, farmland preservation, economic development, and infrastructure provision
- Clearly link infrastructure and land use to state targets like AB 32
- Produce scalable tools for the state, nonprofits, etc.
- Build upon other regional plans to make growth scenarios
- Connect state and national goals for energy independence, energy efficiency, and green job creation to land use and infrastructure investments
The report presents four different scenarios that may occur depending on the outcome of market and policy changes. Preference definitely seems to be given to the “Green Future” policy package, which envisions an 87% reduction in GHG emissions, large increases in public transportation and community walkability, and a much more urban land use pattern for most cities. These changes are to be achieved through market-based Smart Growth and aggressive environmental policies (“Vision California,” 3 and 14).
Both projects present interesting roles, some old, some new, for the planner. One particularly interesting role for the planner presented in Envision Utah and Vision California is that of “fact presenter.” Both reports use numerous graphic representations of data, the colorful Utah development-types maps or the very professional-looking Greenhouse Gas Emissions Summary’s bar graphs, to demonstrate the need for planning expertise (“Vision California, 14 and “Envision Utah,” 62). On the one hand, the reader is presented with information they can use to inform their own decisions. On the other hand, the reader must understand how the data was collected, compiled, and interpreted before coming to a truly sound conclusion on these reports. If citizen participation in regional planning is to be preserved, planners must walk a narrow line between introducing sufficiently complex data and making sure the process in which planning statistics are generated and presented remains transparent and approachable.
While both reports rely on the power of planners as “fact presenters” and both emphasize the importance of righting market inefficiencies, they diverge in their ideals on the planner’s enforcement powers. The Utah report emphasizes providing local agencies with funding, from the LeRay McAllister Critical Land Conservation Fund, and with technical support for progressive projects that coordinate with regional plan goals (“Envision Utah Baseline Commission Report,” 3, 12). This emphasis on overall community health and private and/or local control of development decisions may make the nature of Utah’s plan more participatory (envisionutah.org and “Envision Utah Baseline Commission Report,” 3, 12). Here, the regional planner is very much an assistant for local government goals. “Vision California” on the other hand looks to enforcement of recent state environmental policies to reward many of these goals. Here, the regional planner is closer to a technocratic dispenser of statewide laws. “Vision California” returns to technical language about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled again and again. Some might criticize this emphasis as blind to Californians’ current concerns about the economy and state budget. It should be noted however, that California solidly rejected Proposition 23. Clearly, state citizens consider climate change action important Utah’s plan appears to be more effective in maintaining citizen participation and California’s plan seems to be more effective in allowing uniform, regional planning enforcement.
To summarize, California and Utah are two very different states facing similar statewide changes (population growth, pollution) that cannot be addressed by local planning alone. The two states’ regional plans both acknowledge the importance of regional-scale coordination for sustainability planning and outline specific goals to gauge sustainability progress. Planners faced with enforcing “Envision Utah” and “Vision California,” must learn how to present honest, useful data and to balance citizen participation with goal achievement. California planners may want to look to Utah for insight on citizen participation and Utah planners may want to look to California for expertise in data presentation and uniform enforcement. Regional plans in the US are often bound by state borders, but climate change, population growth, and economic transformations are sweeping across the entire nation; as Western states with regional plans in place, Utah and California have a unique opportunity to learn from each other’s distinct planning strategies.
Sources: envisionutah.org; Envision Utah Baseline Commssion Report; Envision Utah Executive Summary; Vision California Full Report