Salt Lake City needs to grow up to regain its swaggering air

The city must work to attract new residents in order to gain economic and political power and provide more housing.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake City skyline will change in 2021 with several new skyscrapers and midsize towers rising in the Utah capital.

Are you tired of feeling helpless, Salt Lake City? Tired of being pushed around by the Legislature in the redistribution process? Or to see the tech industry move south? Or visitors who jump at you for Park City?

Rather than complaining about the legislature, let’s get down to business. Defeat the legislature at its own game of power and money. Salt Lake City is the regional center of the two. Tired of Orem State and Hurricane representatives ruining your day? Make Salt Lake City an economic juggernaut with abundant housing and their constituents will move to SLC. Salt Lake City is the most important source of wealth creation within a 500 mile radius, and it’s time to start acting on it.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear if Salt Lake City wants more residents. From 2010 to 2020, SLC’s population grew by a meager 7%, while Utah grew by 18% overall and previously by 20-30%. by decade. The population of SLC is barely larger than it was in 1960, which is absurd. Enrollment in SLC school districts is declining. It’s time to stem the tide or be set aside as a museum city.

Maybe you watched the NIMBY trend across the country which made it extremely difficult to build something new. Even many local suburbs are closed to new residents – in fact, they have become closed towns.

Salt Lake City must have a different message: we are open for business and we want you live, work and play here. If we can build enough housing to stabilize rents relative to Denver and Austin, SLC will be the kind of talent magnet that will bring power. The increase in employment opportunities will create a virtuous feedback loop. Abundant housing and safe streets will attract families with much needed children.

Do you want a lot of tax revenue to improve the city? You get it as you grow, both in terms of residents and businesses. Silicone slopes have formed in the south in part because it is difficult to build in Salt Lake City. Restrictive height limits make it difficult to develop new developments, and exceptions are frequently needed on the part of the Salt Lake City Planning Commission. This process is boring, but the decisions of these commissioners often result in inadequate new housing.

The paradox of the whole gentrification and affordability debate is that to avoid unaffordability, neighborhoods must change faster, not slower. We have this mindset upside down in Salt Lake City, where we have frozen neighborhoods while the rich bid on the price of scarce housing. We must provide abundance instead. San Francisco tried the tactic of not building new units and as a result they became a poster of astronomical prices and malfunctions. See here, here and here that building more contributes to affordability.

So how do we do it? City-wide upzoning would streamline many more housing for current and future residents, and attract new employers. Uniform overzoning would avoid pitting neighborhoods against local real estate developers, which is often the case today. Here are some simple steps this new Salt Lake City council can take:

• Make triplexes legal everywhere, remove setback requirements and floor area ratios.

• Make ADUs legal as of right.

• Eliminate parking minimums.

• Remove height restrictions in the central business district.

• Provide a dividend to residents from developer impact fees.

This is how you increase the tax base and add amenities, fund more police, safer streets, better parks, better public transportation. This is how you add more progressive voters in Utah to secure a 5th seat in Congress and shatter gerrymandering options for the legislature. Now is the time, after the City Council races, where the council is set for the next two years.

Yes, some people will be displaced, but for a much brighter future of world-class employment opportunities, short commutes and car independence. The best thing you can do for poor residents is grow taller while still providing plenty of housing options. Townhouses, duplexes, triplexes, ADUs, townhouses, backyard apartments and, yes, more skyscrapers at heart. Now is the time for Salt Lake to reclaim its pride of place in Utah.

Levi Thatcher, Salt Lake City, did his graduate studies in atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, works as director of data science, sits on the Sugar House Community Council and is a member of the board of directors of Sweet streets SLC.

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