A game of homes (and jobs, farms and more)

“Smart Growth was an intellectual fetish of a self-selected liberal Eastern elite.”

Robert J. Grow, president and CEO of Envision Utah, a public-private collaboration in the Salt Lake City region, told about 400 Charlotte region residents that his Western region calls what it does “quality growth.” “It was our growth,” he said. “It was our decision.”

Whatever you call it, it’s impressive. The Salt Lake City region is building, in the next seven years, some 70 miles of mass transit lines. They’re building commuter rail, light rail, streetcar rail and bus rapid transit – simultaneously. Four counties adopted a half-cent sales tax to help pay for the projects. It’s part of a planned, 130-mile system. And all this in a state so politically conservative that, Grow said, Bill Clinton came in third in Utah, behind Ross Perot.

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“When we built our first light rail line” he said, “people thought it was a Communist conspiracy.” The first light rail line opened in 1999. The area now has three lines; its 44-mile commuter rail opened in 2008, and a modern streetcar line is due to open by the end of this year. “There isn’t a city in Utah that isn’t trying to get the rail to come,” he said.

Grow’s lunchtime remarks were part of a daylong exercise, RealityCheck2050, sponsored by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute and part of the multiyear