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Planning and Development Challenges in Western Gateway Communities
Small towns and cities outside of national parks, scenic public lands, and other natural amenities throughout the western United States are becoming increasingly popular places to live and visit. As a result, many of these gateway communities appear to be experiencing a range of pressures and challenges. In this study we draw on the results of in-depth interviews with 33 public officials and a survey of more than 300 public officials to shed light on the planning and development concerns across western gateway communities. Our results indicate that gateway communities throughout the western United States are experiencing a range of planning and development challenges, many of which seem atypical for small rural communities, such as challenges associated with housing affordability, cost of living, and congestion. These challenges seem to be more related to population growth than increasing tourism and stand out in stark contrast against the fact that these communities strongly value and identify with their small-town character. Our findings suggest gateway communities are doing a variety of things, some quite innovative, to address their planning and development challenges but often feel overwhelmed, behind the curve, and in need of additional capacity and planning support.
Our study highlights the importance of effective and proactive planning in gateway communities. It also suggests that to do forward-looking planning and to respond to the challenges they face, many gateway communities will need additional planning support and tools. We highlight gateway communities here to provide a platform for future efforts aimed at assisting these small, rural communities in protecting the qualities that make them such special places to live and visit amid the planning and development pressures and challenges they face.