Cities Should Oppose The Prison Relocation

Lawmakers are currently considering a proposal to begin moving the Utah State Prison, which sits prominently on the west side of I15 in Draper. The idea is that the prison occupies valuable space along the Wasatch Front that would be better used for new development. More specifically, some people want to create a tech hub in Draper.

Everyone would benefit from more high tech companies in region, but suggesting that the prison needs to move to bring them in is a fallacious argument. Indeed, it would be vastly better to encourage tech companies to locate inside existing development. As a result, cities like Salt Lake and Provo should be doing everything they can to make sure new jobs aren’t lost to future sprawl. That means opposing the prison relocation.

The arrow points to the approximate location of the Utah State Prison. Lawmakers want to move the prison to make room for tech development, but it makes more sense to create tech hubs in existing urban centers.

The arrow points to the approximate location of the Utah State Prison. Lawmakers want to move the prison to make room for tech development, but it makes more sense to create tech hubs in existing urban centers.

Relocating the prison creates a variety of shorter-term problems. For one, it means more new development even as most cities along the Wasatch Front already have very low densities and plenty of room for more infill. In other words, there is absolutely no need for more massive new subdivisions.

Moving the prison also creates more distant development that requires more driving; Draper isn’t proximate to anything, so new development will require long trips to get anywhere. Historically, Draper has also been filled with car-oriented development, meaning residents have to drive short distances for everyday errands as well. It’s a lose-lose situation, and is particularly baffling at a time when we’re trying to clean up our worst-in-the-nation air.

But city governments should particularly oppose the prison relocation because it effectively stacks the decks against their efforts to win talent and jobs. Why would a tech company move to Provo or Salt Lake, for example, when they can get cheap land from the government in the middle of nowhere?

In other words, moving the prison is a government subsidy for sprawl. It would involve spending hundreds of millions of dollars to just make it less appealing to develop a tech hub in an urban center.

Relatedly, last year I contrasted the new campuses of Amazon and Apple. Basically, Apple is building a huge new building out in the suburbs, while Amazon is investing in the urban core of Seattle.

Lawmakers who want to move the prison are effectively trying to create Apple-style development, even though analysts have said the Amazon version is actually the one that is benefiting its surroundings the most.

Ultimately, there’s no reason cities like Salt Lake and Provo couldn’t, or shouldn’t, create internal tech hubs. Moving the prison, however, makes that harder because it uses government money to pick winners and losers.


Filed under Development, economics

6 responses to “Cities Should Oppose The Prison Relocation

  1. Jesse

    It’s such an eyesore though…

    This is a toughie for me. Part of me says it is better to put the prison out of sight in the West desert or something, but you are right that there is plenty of room for infill. I guess if I was a city politician for a town other than Draper I would pay attention to your points.

    • Yeah, I agree that it’s ugly and I wouldn’t be surprised if they move it for that reason (which despite what they say is what I think is motivating them at this point). But I don’t think ugliness alone outweighs the economic and environmental impacts. There’s got to be a better solution.

  2. The worst part of this to me is that by moving the prison to someplace like Tooele you are now requiring prison employees to either move further or drive further to get to work. I don’t know much about prisons, but I’d imagine that alone would affect a lot of people.
    It also increases the miles between local jails and courthouses to the prison and the miles visitors will need to travel to see inmates.

  3. laura

    There seems to be lots of room for infill in actual city centers. For example, I can think of several single level asphalt parking lots in downtown Salt Lake that are rarely used and a complete waste of city space. On an anecdotal side note, I’ve heard Adobe employees–who take the same public transit route home as I do–complain about how Adobe is in the middle of nowhere. Its location really is a shame.

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