Planning Utah: from Zion to Smart Growth

Brigham Young

Brigham Young, accessed 2/18/2014,

The Envision Utah coalition has gained some visibility within the planning discussion in regards to their plan, and its influence in shaping the future of Utah. The coalition is well received in a state that is historical conservative, but it is not the first planning entity that has impacted Utah.  Led by early church leader Brigham Young, the Mormons brought with them plans for developing towns throughout the West. The founding father of the Latter -Day Saints religion (LDS) , Joseph Smith, took a lead role in crafting The Plat of Zion which was a religiously influenced document used as the basis for community planning of Mormon settlements. Early planning efforts led by the church served as a foundation for more than 500 western communities.  Today, recognizing the state’s planning past, the Envision Utah process,  has been able to guide the growth of the state into 21st century.

To provide some historical context about the LDS religion and associated culture, the following article contains excerpts of Joseph Smith’s teachings and the reason the church sought a Zion.

“The Saints were intensely interested in establishing Zion—a holy city, a peaceful refuge for the righteous fleeing the wickedness of the world.” Establishing the Cause of Zion

Historical Context of the Plat of Zion

Presented below is an article containing information about early Mormonism and its lasting effects on modern planning. The author,  Brigham Daniels, covers topics from the initial search for Zion to the modern planning practices in Utah.

“The most significant step taken in building a community vision along the Wasatch Front is that of the grassroots planning process called Envision Utah. ” Brigham Daniels

Historical to modern Utah planning

The Plat of Zion was an intricate document that established the design of the city as well as individual structures. This document from Brigham Young University provides information about the intricacies of the plan, from housing construction to the overall layout.

“The whole plot is supposed to contain from fifteen to twenty thousand people: you will therefore see that it will require twenty-four buildings to supply them with houses of worship, schools, etc. ” Plat of Zion

Detailed description of the Plat of Zion from 1833

The Plat has never been applied in its entirety, to include the details prescribed in the original plan. Many towns like those in the article below do exhibit distinct features that can be directly tied to the Plat of Zion.

“The village of Stirling adhered so strictly to the Mormon agricultural village concept that eventually the government of Canada named the entire townsite a National Historic Site.” Mormon Town Grids and the Plat of Zion

Modern examples of Plat of Zion cities

plat of zion

Plat of Zion, accessed 2/18/2014,

This University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) report suggests that while Utah wouldn’t seem like a likely candidate for producing such a successful regional planning organization, Envision Utah has seen a high level of success that other communities are taking note of. There are some key characteristics that have led to their success. 

“Envision Utah adopted several strategies that have distinguished Utah’s regional planning efforts from other regions…” Brenda Scheer

UNLV report on Envision Utah

Envision Utah is focused on growing the region in the proper manner. The link below demonstrates the broad scope of the Envision Utah Plan, it also describes the process in which the plan was crafted focusing on community involvment. The video is a presentation by the president of Envision Utah’s, Robert J. Grow,  where he details the goals of his organization

 “…the focus shifted to workshops that examined how to accommodate the one million additional inhabitants expected in the region by 2020. There were typically 200 people at each 3-hour workshop, ten people to a table.” Regional Planning through Community Participation: Learning from Envision Utah

Broad scope of Envision Utah

Salt Lake

Salt Lake City, accessed 2/18/2014,

We plan to guide growth both historically and currently. The Plat of Zion is still impacting the Utah to this day, and will likely continue to do so. Although the Plat was intended for individual townships, it ultimately influenced a region. Residents of Utah are not unfamiliar with planning, and have seen the benefits of the early Mormon design.  This may contribute to Utahan’s willingness to be involved with the Envision Utah coalition. Planners in Utah have the ability to utilize the groundwork laid by The Plat of Zion and continue innovating through modern planning entities such as Envision Utah.