Environment & Public Lands
5:23 pm
Wed May 29, 2013

New Urbanism Convention Comes to Utah

City planners, designers and developers from across the country are in Salt Lake City through Saturday to discuss how to build more walkable, transit-oriented and sustainable neighborhoods. The Congress for the New Urbanism brought its annual convention to Salt Lake City this year. 

The New Urbanism philosophy harkens back to neighborhoods designed before the automobile existed. The pedestrian-centered balance of jobs, housing and transportation is intended to rein in urban sprawl and relieve traffic congestion.

A group of convention goers have just toured the Sugar House area. Now they’re looking at giant aerial photos of the neighborhood trying to come up with a design plan for the 700 east streetcar station. San Francisco transportation planner Jeffrey Tumlin says first comes walkability.

“Seventh east and 2100 south are not the most walkable of streets and that’s going to limit the ability of the place to take advantage of this transit investment," Tumlin says.

So where do designers and planners go wrong? Tumlin says in assuming state departments of transportation will budge on traffic speeds to make streets more comfortable for pedestrians, assuming a market is ready for particular developments and not involving the existing business owners and residents.

Terry Shook is president of Shook Kelly design firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He helped transform an area along the trolley and light-rail lines on Charlotte’s historic South End.

“There are a lot of complex land assembly issues that go with this," Shook says. "A lot of sensitive price points on land that effect how things are developed or redeveloped. But over time they sort themselves out and I think that you will find that your infrastructure investment will pay off handsomely for your city.”

Convention goers say Salt Lake City was a prime location for the convention because of its fast growing light rail system and numerous downtown revitalization projects.