Healthy Communities: Enhancing Open Space

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Utah’s natural resource endowments and its past cultivation of urban and suburban open spaces will likely continue to spur population growth in the future. As a result, additional stress will be placed upon existing endowments. Doing nothing in the coming years threatens to decrease the quality of life that Utahns – both newcomers and long-timers alike – have come to expect and value.

This report provides an understanding of why open space is important, looks at the population growth that is complicating access to open space, and describes the availability of open space. The report then offers a menu of options for local governments and communities to improve the use and allocation of open space. These include improved and additional parks, trails, recreational access points, transportation systems, and other infrastructure necessary to encourage public space utilization. The report also includes spotlights on large-scale neighborhood projects.

This report uses Salt Lake County and the Wasatch Front as a focus for discussion. This is simply because Salt Lake County constitutes about one-third of Utah’s residents while the Wasatch Front constitutes roughly 80% of the state’s residents. That said, many of the proposals for improved use and allocation of open-space resources could be implemented in any of the state’s communities.

KEY FINDINGS OF THIS REPORT

  • Under multiple measures, Utahns have a dearth of open space access and availability. With Utah’s population growth, this will become more of an issue.
  • Utah spends proportionally more on parks and recreation than other states. That number had been declining since 2008 until trending back up beginning in 2019.
  • Governments have leverage to ensure the inclusion of open space in small and large projects that are at least partially under public control.
  • Opening new parks is an obvious way to increase the availability of open space, though other options will be needed, such as additional trails and improving or repurposing existing space such as schoolyards, golf courses, and other pockets of fallow land.
  • It is becoming more urgent to address overcrowding in some open spaces but at the same time improve transportation to many of those spaces

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