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Here Comes the Neighborhood!
Utah’s Sustainable City

By Leslie McGuire, managing editor
Photos courtesy of Kennecott Land

At Daybreak, every house will be within a five minute walk of a park on 37 miles of interconnecting trails, some lined with channel streams. It will be just as easy to walk or bicycle to grocery and other shops and restaurants in the village core.
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Just think about all the good things the word “neighborhood” means: People watching out for each other, building abiding friendships, helping the group by keeping an eye on each other’s children, noticing difficult times, creating subtle support groups… the list goes on. Perhaps when we were younger it felt overbearing and nosy, but the good things are so important, we just can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The development plan of Daybreak in Utah will take more than 50 years from start to finish, but this mega-suburb is being built for an expected half-million residents on the largest piece of privately owned land next to a U.S. metropolis. Twice the size of San Francisco, it will be the work of a mining company, Kennecott Utah Copper Corp., which has no previous experience in real-estate development. Kennecott is a subsidiary of London-based Rio Tinto, a mining multinational and strong convert to environmentalism, which has decided to make a showcase out of its surplus Utah lands instead of just selling them off for cookie-cutter subdivisions.

Kennecott has committed to catching 100 percent of the rainwater that falls, even up to a 100-year storm. The theory is to catch the water as close to where it falls as possible and infiltrate it into the ground, eliminating a large amount of the underground piping and stormwater infrastructure that would typically be used in a new development.

Incorporating the 10 Principles of New Urbanism

The entire site is planned around the 10 principles of New Urbanism. In addition to cleaning up the site where necessary, Kennecott is integrating the housing, workplaces, shops, entertainment, schools, parks and civic facilities within easy walking distance. In addition, they are also using new technologies to increase the sustainability of those neighborhoods.

As far as plantings go, Kennecott is conscious of being water wise, trying to incorporate as many native and indigenous plants as possible. Mainly native wildflowers and native grasses have been chosen, which are primarily watered with the secondary water irrigation system.

ONE: Walkability

  • Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work.
  • Pedestrian friendly street design (buildings close to street; porches, windows and doors; tree-lined streets; on-street parking; narrow, slow-speed streets.

With the street design Kennecott has incorporated parking strips, which include the curb and sidewalk, that are seven and a half feet wide, and the set back from the architecture is 15 feet to create more of an opportunity for people to discuss things with their neighbors, from the porch. People have to take care of their park strip, groundcover or small perennials, non mowable plants are encouraged. Homeowners maintain their own properties. Areas that are common space, have six or seven homes clustered on a single space and the homeowners association maintains it.

Kennecott is helping build a pair of reverse-osmosis filter plants to clean tainted groundwater over the next 40 years, while providing fresh tap water for the southwest part of the Salt Lake Valley.

TWO: Connectivity

  • Interconnected street grid network disperses traffic and eases walking.A hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards and alleys.
  • High quality pedestrian network and public realm makes walking pleasurable.

There are corridors of trail networks outside the town areas. However, there is also true open space such as a wash that takes people up into the mountain ranges. Daybreak is located four miles from foothills with the Oquirrh (pronounced Oh-ker) Range behind them.

There are areas that have attached housing around a common space. Six or seven homes are clustered on a single space and the homeowners association maintains it.

THREE: Mixed Use and Diversity

  • A mix of shops, offices, apartments and homes on site with mixed use within neighborhoods, within blocks and within buildings.
  • Diversity of people—of all ages, income levels, cultures and races.

There’s a hierarchical order of streets. The largest streets will have the largest trees, with smaller trees on the less traveled streets to let people know where they are. More important there are bigger and smaller scale homes. People are expected as well as required to plant at least one tree in their front yard. They tried to make it so most have at least two street trees. “We have a recommended plant list,” says Jeff Haws, manager of Landscape Planning at Kennecott. “People are free to choose any plants from that list. Some trees don’t handle full sun or full shade. Through the design review process we can help the owner decide what’s appropriate.” People are encouraged to create a layering effect—foundation planting, then moderate range, then ground cover.

Owners are not allowed to have more than 60 percent turf, for water conservation purposes. In the rest of Utah 90 percent turf is the norm.

There are corridors of trail networks outside the town areas. Along the trails there will be multiple experiences, parks, kiosks, plantings and demonstration gardens.

FOUR: Mixed Housing

  • A range of types, sizes and prices in closer proximity.

The street scene is patterned after an historic part of Salt Lake City. Eventually there will be canopy covering the street. Kennecott purposefully didn’t put the same kind of trees on every street to avoid disease.

In addition to detached single family houses on one level with a very small lot, there are clusters of six or seven attached homes. Maintenance is minimized but everyone shares a big green park in front that is cared for and maintained by the homeowners and acts as a front lawn for all six or seven but doesn’t require the care.


"We have tried to combine all the neighborhoods into one synergistic network with landscapes that are beautiful as well as functional."
—Terrell Budge, ASLA, principal, Design Workshop

The homes also have a different architectural character, so people feel they have their own neighborhood. Unlike Levittown, a planned community that was built at the end of WWII to house returning GIs, if you accidentally turn into the wrong street, you’ll know right away that this isn’t your house. There was no diversity in the houses, all of which were cookie-cutter stamped out little white houses with little green lawns. Stories, perhaps apocryphal but probably not, were told about people coming home after a long hard day at work, and stumbling into the wrong kitchen where the wrong wife let out a scream of dismay.

ABOVE & BELOW: The playground designs and equipment will be everything from traditional to modern Kompan-style equipment, with benches from Landscape Forms and Country Casual for park site amenities.

FIVE: Quality Architecture and Urban Design

  • Emphasis should be placed on beauty, aesthetics and human comfort to create a sense of place, along with special placement of civic uses and sites within the community. Human scale architecture and beautiful surroundings nourish the human spirit.

There is a community garden where people can rent a space and grow vegetables sponsored and maintained by the homeowners association. Spaces range from large to small, and create another gathering place in the community where people can rub elbows and get to know their neighbors. Ultimately, all the neighborliness makes the neighborhood safer.

“It was very rewarding,” said Jeff Haws, “to go to school to learn these concepts and then be able to come out and make it work.”

The full site of Daybreak covers 4,700 acres, of which 85 acres is devoted to the lake, a major amenity. The area around the lake brings it to 165 acres total.

The first phase, 24 acres, will be open end of summer.

A BEBO bridge is being laid in place as the connection to the planned island in the center of the lake.

Only non-motorized boats will be allowed on Oquirrh Lake, however people can reserve rowboats, kayaks or sunfish. There will also be a splash pad intended for the little ones as well as a wading pool 18 inches deep with two fountains running continuously. Other water amenities are planned as well.

The lake has a rubber liner with approximately two to two-and-one-half feet of soil on top of the liner. They had a number of wildlife consultants advise them on habitat requirements. Fish habitats will be constructed on the bottom, for spawning and reproduction. Eventually 220,000 fish will have homes in the lake.

SIX: Traditional Neighborhood Structure

  • A discernable center and edge.
  • Public space at center.
  • Importance of quality public realm; public open space designed as civic art.
  • Contains a range of uses and densities within a 10-minute walk.
  • Transect Planning: Highest densities at town center and progressively less dense toward the edge.

“We have tried to combine all the neighborhoods into one synergistic network with landscapes that are beautiful as well as functional,” says Terrell Budge, ASLA, principal, Design Workshop. “In addition, we wanted to make sure there was a range of activities and types of housing so kids, from toddlers through teenagers, and adults have places to go and things to do. We made sure there were places for seating, as well as gardening areas that are appropriate to older people.”

There’s a community center with weight room, gym, cycling, dance instruction, a few basketball and sand volleyball courts. A couple are large enough for little league soccer, but they don’t have the typical multiplex sports park. They’re looking at skate parks. They’ve had workshops with residents to find out what they’d like to see. They wanted skate parks, a large public pool, a soccer field and ball diamond. Skate parks are not the best element, so they would rather make skate park elements such as stair rails or concrete blocks to grind the board on.

ABOVE & BELOW: A number of wetland shelves will be incorporated into the lake. The perimeter will be planted with an 80 percent wildflower and native grass mix. Other areas, such as turf, will be separated to prevent fertilizer run off. Once the lake wetlands have been established, they will be used as part of the stormwater management system.

SEVEN: Increased Density

  • More buildings, residences, shops and services closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.
  • New Urbanism design principles are applied at the full range of densities from small towns to large cities.

With 13,667 units planned, there is still going to be 30 percent open space. The master plan was done by Peter Calthorpe, of Calthorpe and Associates. They worked on open space and corridors while defining distinct and identifiable neighborhoods with centers—either a park, school, church or village center with retail within Daybreak. Obviously there are smaller lots but the idea that recreation and outdoor activities will occur in the common spaces made it important that the community amenities be wonderful enough to attract buyers. They’re willing to have a smaller lot if they can have the common amenities, says Calthorpe.

“It’s a new concept for this market,” said Terrell Budge, “However we felt strongly that it was the correct way to build a community. Keeping in mind open space and stewardship of the land we could maximize the housing density and keep more land open.”

As far as shopping is concerned, the retail spaces are not leased yet. They are still in planning stages, to be sure that they have the right grocery anchor with a large office tenant. Much of the retail will be support services for residents and workers in the offices.

EIGHT: Smart Transportation

  • A network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns and neighborhoods together.
  • Pedestrian-friendly design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters and walking as daily transportation.

The plan is for a 20-mile string of densely packed, “walkable” communities framing the rural west side of Salt Lake County. The communities would be laid out along a planned highway with light-rail lines connecting to Salt Lake City. Kennecott’s vision calls for 162,800 houses in neighborhoods mixing the wealthy and wage earners in shared communities of gardens, pocket parks and surrounding open space. This will all be made possible through Daybreak’s proximity to a large urban center. Kennecott contributed $400,000 to kick-start an environmental study of extending a light-rail line from downtown Salt Lake City to Daybreak.

Kennecott banned the use of aluminum siding and fake cobblestone facades in favor of natural materials and insisted on the rambling front porches for most houses. The same holds true for the shopping areas and walkway walls.

NINE: Sustainability

  • Minimal environmental impact of development and operations.
  • Eco-friendly technologies, respect for ecology and value of natural systems.
  • Energy efficiency.
  • Less use of finite fuels.
  • More local production.
  • More walking, less driving.

A small section of Daybreak was built over evaporation ponds that collected mining runoff—along with heavy metals—from 1936 to 1965. Kennecott scooped up three million square yards of contaminated soil and carried it back near the mine. Peter F. McMahon, president of Kennecott Land Co., said the Daybreak cleanup exceeded Environmental Protection Agency standards.

They are now exploring 300 foot wells sunk down into the ground that will provide either heated or cooled water which will be pumped back up into the buildings. In winter, the earth is warmer and in summer the earth is cooler.

They plan to use the ground source heat and cooling for the information center and school and are investigating the lake bottom as a heat source for the commercial buildings in Village One.

The lake will be the recreational and environmental center for the eastern half of Daybreak. Along with the island in the middle of the lake it will provide a visual amenity, and create a wildlife habitat, while offering educational and recreation opportunities. This is a demonstration of the integration of multiple systems.

Designed to act as a habitat for fish and waterfowl, it will also act as a reservoir for irrigation for the open spaces and for stormwater management. The lake is ringed with stormwater wetlands and they capture water from surrounding neighborhoods and clean it, infiltrate it back into the ground and then down into the aquifer. There are stormwater collection points throughout the project.

Kennecott has committed to catching 100 percent of the rainwater that falls, even up to a 100 year storm. This is groundbreaking. They’ve been tasked with making the swales and catch water arrangements and habitat locations.

In addition, this also eliminates impact fees for the connection to municipal stormwater systems. It is estimated that somewhere between $40 to 70 million will be saved over the life of the project in impact fee reduction alone, which is an example of doing the right thing environmentally and making great economic sense as well.

“We’re lucky because the developer has a very strong environmental ethic as does the parent company,” said Budge. “A lot of times, developers think environmental sensitivity and economic viability are mutually exclusive, but in fact, they are synergistic and go hand in hand with one another.”

Water in the west is a precious commodity and they can minimize the use of water. In phase one, 68 percent is planted in native or drought tolerant plants that require much less water than required by typical parks.

Kennecott has dug wells 300 feet deep to provide ground-source heating and cooling for the new elementary school and community center. Heating and cooling will be the same for the office and retail buildings. Once the systems are in place, it is essentially free energy.

TEN: Quality of Life

  • Taken together, these add up to a high quality of life well worth living and create places that enrich, uplift and inspire the human spirit.

Says Budge, “We were mandated by the client, but it was their four-fold internal vision that is guiding us. Daybreak is more than just a pretty place, it integrates social, cultural and environmental thinking while providing the economic rating value and aesthetics that are usually associated with high-end infrastructure systems.”

Robert McNulty, president of Partners for Livable Communities, said, “To have a mining company as owner and developer means they are part of the long-term interest. The site and the land is now worth far more than the minerals.

Mining operations haven’t always had the best reputation regarding the land, however, they’re staying until at least 2018, so they have a long-term stakeholder position. Despite being the largest strip mine in the nation, their long-term interests will now transcend their short-term mining concerns.”

There have been, of course, other attempts at mixed use, walkable, high-density neighborhoods. Although they’ve had their ups and downs, some have been quite successful. Co-op City in the Bronx, built in the 1960s just at the tip of New York City, is one. A long time resident and community board official said, “What’s been accomplished at Co-op City, socially, is beyond imagining.

From all these different parts and all these difficulties we’ve made a safe, viable community. We take people from backgrounds from all over the world and chew them up and digest them and spit out Americans. The rest of the country should take a lesson from here.”

In Utah, at Daybreak, it appears that they have.

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December 15, 2019, 9:22 am PDT

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