15-minute cities will set the standard for future real estate development in Utah
The 15-minute city concept refers to urban areas where residents can reach any place they need to go within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. These municipalities have become more popular among city planning experts because of the environmental, economic, and public health benefits.
Utah will soon get its first 15-minute city at the Point of the Mountain between Utah and Salt Lake Counties. This new development will be called The Point, and it’s just one example of how Utah is planning for the future of our communities and prioritizing sustainability.
“Key characteristics of a vibrant community include sustainable development, equitable economic opportunities for all residents, a multimodal transportation system, and robust civic engagement,” says Alan Matheson, Executive Director of The Point. “These characteristics are foundational to The Point and are reflected in the key visual elements for the site.”
According to Brandon Fugal, Chairman at Colliers Utah, the opportunity at The Point is like nothing that has ever been seen before. “The magnitude of this project stands not unique to Utah but also to the United States. This project is truly historical and one of the most significant commercial development undertakings in US history. Nowhere will you find this amount of developable land in such a critical area of an established metropolitan area.”
Sustainable and affordable
While reducing environmental impact is one of the critical elements of sustainable growth in Utah, it’s essential for sustainability and housing affordability to go hand-in-hand. Utah will add 2.2 million people to the state’s population over the next four decades. As demand for new housing rises, housing costs will also increase—unless Utah can build enough new homes to keep up with demand.
Rapidly building new development while keeping housing costs low can come with an increase in air pollution, increased use of natural and non-renewable resources, and a negative impact on Utah’s ecology. To provide sustainable and affordable housing, innovative development is critical. The 15-minute city design allows developers to increase the number of housing units in the state while protecting Utah’s natural environment.
One of the defining features of a 15-minute city is its long-term sustainability. The team at The Point uses five elements to guide their planning: mobility, ecology, energy and carbon, water, and waste.
“We aspire for The Point to become the new benchmark for sustainable practices in our region and are working with international experts to identify leading strategies,” Matheson says. “These steps are important to preserve Utah’s amazing natural endowment and promote improved public health.”
Smart mobility is the first element of The Point’s plan to become a long-term sustainable community. The de-emphasis on the car is at the core of the intelligent mobility plan.
According to 2019 data, 86 percent of Americans use a car for transportation to and from work. Unfortunately, emissions from vehicles are responsible for more than half of Utah’s air pollution, which frequently reaches dangerous levels due to the way the valleys trap smog. As the state’s population grows, finding ways to minimize the number of cars added to the roads.
The Point is designed to be a “one car community.” The city will encourage households to own only one car by creating well-connected walking and biking paths, car-share options, and accessible public transit. Research has shown that effective public transportation options can significantly reduce car ownership in a city. Researchers have also found that the addition of safe bike lanes in a city tremendously increases the number of cyclists and decreases cars on the road.
While residents may want to jump in the car for weekend road trips or a visit to the mountains, all essential daily tasks should be possible to reach without a car. All residential areas will be near high-quality pedestrian routes and within a five-minute walk of a transit stop.
“The Point’s smart mobility plan is estimated to eliminate up to 3.5 million single-occupancy vehicle trips and 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year,” Matheson says. “In addition, it will save up to $28 million annually from reduced driving and car ownership and $14 million each year in improved health from increased physical activity and cleaner air.”
The other sustainability initiatives of The Point include reducing carbon emissions through efficient building standards and utilizing renewable energy sources like solar panels and geothermal energy. The development aims to preserve the region’s ecology by providing migratory corridors through the site for wildlife.
The Point project will create infrastructure to capture and treat stormwater using less potable water than traditional developments. Additionally, the community will promote recycling and the minimization of waste.
While developers of The Point make plans to protect the environment, housing affordability initiatives have not been forgotten. “We want those who work at The Point to be able to live there,” Matheson says. “Without the need for an extra car, life at The Point becomes more affordable. The project will also offer various housing options to accommodate residents from all stages of life and a range of income levels. In addition, The Point will provide a variety of community services and employment opportunities to meet the needs of all residents.”
The Point’s efforts to reduce car travel, carbon emissions, and non-renewable energy usage while providing affordable housing will go a long way to protect Utah’s climate. It’s vital for other Utah communities and future developments to include sustainability initiatives.
Millcreek, one of Utah’s newest cities, designs sustainability initiatives to guide further developments as the area’s population grows and the city matures. In conjunction with nearby cities Cottonwood Heights and Holladay, Millcreek created a sustainability action plan that encourages new developments to include renewable energy sources and bike and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure to enable travel without using a car.
“Established Utah communities can take on 15-minute city conversion,” Fugal says. “Embracing mixed-use development creates the blueprint to live, work and play within proximity. Applying smart growth principles and planning, overall convenience, activity, health, and optimized transpiration options become guiding factors to enhance neighborhoods, reduce infrastructure costs, and preserve Utah’s unequaled quality of life.”
The master plan for the new 15-minute city was designed with the public’s needs and interests in mind, and The Point team gathered opinions from over 10,000 Utahns about what the new community should look like. That community input showed that Utahns believe parks and open space are essential aspects of the community, and sustainability should be prioritized.
“The Point will be considered a success if we fulfill the public’s vision for the site,” Matheson says. “We believe it is critical to engage with Utahns throughout the planning and development processes. The Point is state-owned property, which means it belongs to all Utahns.”
Many elements of the master plan for The Point came directly from public opinion. The River to Range feature, which connects the Jordan River Parkway Trail and the Porter Rockwell Trail, was developed to the public’s interest in joining regional trails—providing residents with walking, biking, and hiking options.
Matheson believes the future of Utah includes developing more communities that incorporate the same principles as the 15-minute city. “More people are looking for places to live and work that don’t require long drives to reach their daily destinations,” he says. “Cities could consider this new societal shift with large-scale development projects.”
“The Point will become the national model for future-focused development. It will be the heart of the state’s economy in the coming decades,” says Fugal. “These planning efforts exemplify one of Utah’s most protenant differentiators, public-private partnership. Utah has a storied legacy of working together to create a standard of excellence. We see it exemplified in this project.”
The ultimate goal for The Point, Matheson says, is that the project will provide a significant economic and quality-of-life return on public investment and demonstrate that Utah is addressing the challenges of growth in thoughtful, innovative, and humane ways.
The Point’s initial infrastructure will begin construction in 2023. The first phase of residential development is scheduled for 2024.