What do Moab-area residents want their future to look like?
Robert Grow is still waiting for a definitive answer from the community.
The president and CEO of Envision Utah is encouraging Grand County residents to participate in the online “Your Utah, Your Future” survey at envisionutah.org.
Although the website reported a significant spike in locally generated traffic last week, the local response rate is still far below the range that Grow would like to see by May 30, when the survey period closes.
“If we get enough people from your area … we can give you statistically significant answers for your county,” he said.
Surveyors project that the state’s population will expand by another 2.5 million people by the year 2050, and they’re asking residents for suggestions about the steps that Utah should take to build sustainable communities, while preserving a strong quality of life.
The survey asks respondents to pick and choose from five scenarios that cover 11 different topics, ranging from air quality, energy and water to education, housing and economic development. Other topics include public lands, agriculture and disaster preparedness.
“A lot of these topics really affect you (in Moab),” Grow said.
The scenarios run from a no-action alternative, which is not-too-subtly named Allosaurus, after an extinct dinosaur species. Other alternatives take their names from quaking aspens and sego lilies, which symbolize growth and regeneration.
Survey designers came up with the no-action plan mainly to give people a sense of their choices moving forward, although Grow said the group is bound to hear from people who are perfectly happy with the status quo.
“Yeah, there are people who will vote for that,” he said.
However, he believes that 95 percent of state residents believe it’s “important” or “extremely important” to plan strategically for the future.
“We are a state that looks ahead,” Grow said. “We always have.”
The nonpartisan and private nonprofit group has used feedback from past surveys to help community leaders develop mass transit and housing, although the latest survey goes even further in scope. According to Grow, Your Utah, Your Future is the biggest and most ambitious public outreach effort of its kind.
He should know: He has worked on dozens of similar projects around the country, including a recent stint as “visioning team” leader for San Diego County, California.
“I’ve been helping other regions for about 15 years,” he said.
The latest survey is hardly a one-person effort, though.
About 400 task force members, including state lawmakers, business leaders, community advocates and conservationists, spent 18 months putting the survey together. Along the way, they consulted experts in their respective fields, Grow said.
The final product they came up with is a lot to take in.
Visitors can spend as little as five minutes on the site, although Grow said that some of his “planning geek” friends have devoted hours of their time to clicking around from scenario to scenario.
“It’s totally up to each Utahn how much time they spend,” he said.
So far, the group is not quite halfway to its goal of hearing from 50,000 people around the state.
As of last week, about 3,000 high school-age residents had taken the survey, and Grow is encouraged by their involvement in the process.
After all, he said, they’re the ones who will still be around 35 years from now.
Spanish speakers are also encouraged to take the survey. A Spanish-language version is available by clicking “en español” in the upper right hand corner of the screen.
Respondents may find that they agree with the bulk of one particular scenario, but they may object to certain outcomes that it outlines.
One scenario, for instance, anticipates the development of controversial projects, including a proposed Lake Powell pipeline that would supply water to the booming St. George area; the same scenario adds nuclear power to Utah’s energy mix. Another scenario that leans heavily on renewable energy sources and natural gas makes the assumption that consumers’ energy costs would increase by 58 percent under that outcome.
Grow said that respondents don’t have to choose exclusively from one scenario if something about it troubles them, and he encourages respondents to leave specific remarks about their visions for the future in a comment box at the bottom of the survey.
“This is not designed to steer people to certain outcomes,” he said.
Website visitors can find guidance about the outcomes they could expect to see under certain scenarios.
For instance, they can click through each scenario to find out what would happen in each case to water-guzzling lawns that are still a mainstay in many front yards across the West. Likewise, each scenario outlines the steps they need to take in order to improve air quality around the state.
For Envision Utah, the survey is a chance to chronicle major shifts in public attitudes.
Seven years ago, for instance, just over half of survey respondents said they believe agriculture is critically important to the state. Since then, however, that number has jumped to nearly 75 percent.
“That’s a seismic change,” Grow said.
By going through each scenario, respondents can consider the wisdom of water diversions from farms to residential subdivisions.
“We’re asking, ‘Is that the right scenario?’” he said.
Some people might be concerned about the ongoing drought in California, while others want to reduce their carbon footprints by promoting alternatives to produce that is trucked in from Mexico and beyond.
Whatever the reason, Envision Utah is recording more and more interest in locally and organically grown produce, including fruit – nearly all of which is currently imported from other states and countries.
“I think that more and more people are becoming aware of what will happen if we don’t control our own destiny (on these kinds of issues),” he said.
“It’s a very, very different world than it used to be.”
Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson supports the concept of vision planning, but he’d prefer to see the work done at the county level.
“I’d rather (have) us do our own visioning and planning,” he said.
Jackson believes the survey is designed mainly to address issues in Utah’s urban core.
“It’s something that’s being driven by the growth on the Wasatch Front,” he said.
Be that as it may, Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine said that rural communities have a stake in the outcome of future development in and around Salt Lake City.
“It is true that most of Utah’s population and economic growth will occur in our metro areas, but growth that occurs in those areas will inevitably affect rural Utah and Grand County in particular,” Levine said.
Transportation-related issues are just one such concern, he said.
“Policies that guide the evolution of nearby cities and regions will impact us in predictable and unpredictable ways,” Levine said. “Moreover, we need to make decisions about many of the same issues that more urbanized areas face … perhaps just on a different scale and with different factors at play.”
Levine has already taken the survey, and he encourages other county residents to do the same.
“It is my belief that Grand County is at a turning point in determining what kind of community it wants to be in 20 years,” Levine said.
Envision Utah is expected to release the survey’s findings some time this fall.
Until then, Grow is keeping the responses under wraps, and he won’t say whether a majority of respondents are leaning one way or another in favor of a particular scenario.
But he anticipates that the findings will be used to develop a diverse mix of recommendations on the best ways that state and community leaders can plan for the future.
“It’s not like the vision will be picking a single scenario,” he said. “It’s a combination.”
To take the survey, or to learn more about it, go to envisionutah.org.
To take the “Your Utah, Your Future” survey, or to learn more about it, go to envisionutah.org.
Envision Utah response period ends on May 30
We are a state that looks ahead. We always have.