Visiting Daybreak, UT, a Planned Community


This is my third and last post about Salt Lake City, which I visited for the garden communicators annual conference in September.

I live in a town that’s famous in planning circles – the “garden city” of Greenbelt, Maryland. It was a New Deal-era Utopian experiment, with the involvement of both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. We’re proud of that, though not all its features work well. So in search of solutions, I sometimes visit other planned towns.

Which is exactly what Salt Lake City is – a planned community of small farms, originally. I’d seen it listed as one of the “10 Towns that Changed America,” along with Greenbelt. But on my visit I realized that the small farms had turned into regular city blocks, at least on the ground. (Views from the air might still reveal its original lay-out.)

Happily I learned that a new planned community was on the conference agenda as an option to visit, which I did. It’s the town of Daybreak, 23 miles southwest of SLC.

According to the Daybreak story, construction began in 2004 on the site of the former Kennecott Copper Mine. When completed, it could contain more than 20,000 residential units, and 25% of the land will be preserved as open space. The commercial buildings are all LEED-certified and the homes are all Energy Star-certified. All good.


Though the population of Daybreak isn’t diverse, its home styles are – in price, density and style – with condos and townhouses selling for about $250K and single family homes in the $580K to $1 million range. (See the Daybreak homes for sale.)

Townhouse condos in Daybreak

So unlike the dull uniformity of homes in my town (including the one I live in), “Architectural variety is the cornerstone of Daybreak’s design philosophy. It makes the simple act of walking down the street a joy. And it lets each home fulfill its most important role: to reflect the personality of the family who lives there.

“Exterior styles include Colonial Revival, Craftsman and Victorian. The homes along each street also have brighter colors than are found in most suburban neighborhoods. Recently, homes with a more modern style have been added.”

Hear, hear! Overplanning and conformity make my neighborhood a lot less interesting to walk around, especially compared to the famously colorful housing in my former town.

Almost every Daybreak home has “a big front porch that stimulates conversation, inspires neighborliness and looks way better than a garage.”

Garages are approached from alleyways, not the street. A great feature!

Something else Daybreak does right is funding its events and amenities adequately through a 1 percent surcharge on all home sales. The funds go to Live Daybreak for all sorts of amenities and activities for residents.

So in addition to a community center, with a full gym and exercise area and pools, Daybreak has 22 miles of trails and “over a dozen community parks,” and a man-made lake for non-motorized boating, fishing, and more.

Perhaps the most important feature of the whole plan is Daybreak’s walkability, following the “5-minute rule.”

Studies have shown that most people are willing to leave the car in the garage if the place they want to go to is within a 5-minute walk. We based the plan for Daybreak on this simple rule, placing parks, restaurants, shopping, schools, offices and light rail within easy walking or biking distance from your home. And tying the entire community together with trails, sidewalks and bicycle highways.

So all homes are within a five-minute walk or bike ride of a major amenity such as a park, the lake, or a shopping area, reducing dependence on automobile travel.

Walkability was also the central planning feature for Greenbelt, thankfully. I illustrated its success in a blog post called “Destinations on my 7-Minute Walk.” (Close enough.)

Gardens, and Reactions of Garden Writers

Of course we saw some terrific gardens in Daybreak – ones with lots of outdoor living spaces, where desert-dwelling residents can apparently sit and not be eaten by insects.

But as our bus left Daybreak I asked everyone around me what they thought of it and they all expressed criticism for the restrictions imposed on residents. Welcome to my world! Planned communities and homeowner association rules aren’t for everyone.

I found the restrictions listed on the Daybreak Community Association website and yeah, they’re pretty daunting.

The following shall be prohibited at Daybreak:
(a) Plants, animals, devices or other things of any sort whose activities or existence in any way is noxious, dangerous, unsightly, unpleasant or of a nature as may diminish or destroy the enjoyment of Daybreak;

Pursuit of hobbies or other activities that tend to cause an unclean, unhealthy or untidy condition to exist outside of enclosed structures on the Unit;

So vague! I imagine they could be used to deny almost anything.

As for gardens, lawns are restricted in size to no more than 50 percent of the yard, which makes sense there in the desert. Required also are 3-5-foot foundation plants, and there must be plants (not lawn) for 2 feet on either side of fences. That’s done nicely in the garden above.

Fencing choices are the most restrictive I’ve ever seen – one style, one material, all stained the same gray color.

Sure enough, the one resident I was able to chat with complained about the mandatory grey, suggesting that a subtle green would be more appropriate around her particular home. I agreed that a choice of a few colors wouldn’t kill them – all very tasteful, of course.

So if I lived there I’d be trying to get the rules fine-turned for the best result possible. But big picture, in so many important ways, I think Daybreak is pretty genius.

Finally, I think we all noticed these marvels of pruning creativity, which to my eyes demonstrate that some rules – like good pruning practices – are best followed.


  1. “Studies have shown that most people are willing to leave the car in the garage if the place they want to go to is within a 5-minute walk.” Only five?? I consider myself conveniently close to anything I can get to within fifteen minutes on foot, and even 30 minutes isn’t excessive if it’s not boiling hot, rainy etc.

    But then, some places seem to be designed for the exclusive use of vehicles. Interestingly, the places which are least friendly to “unshelled” humans also seem quite unfriendly to plants. Could there be a link there, do you think?

  2. What Is not shared here is that because this area is built on tailings from a copper mine, the ground is toxic, therefore nothing edible should be planted in the ground. And, residents must sign a document saying they know this before they buy. Hmmmm, who thinks it’s ok for the dirt in their yard to be toxic?

    • Exactly! I wouldn’t ever purchase a home in daybreak due to the toxic ground issues. It’s not close to anything either and is pretty far from the highway so unless you work from home, you are still driving a far way to downtown Salt Lake City for work. Daybreak isn’t all its cracked up to be and doesn’t offer much diversity either. If you want walkability, there are much better places in town to live.

    • This is not true. I’ve lived and worked in Daybreak for almost 15 years. It’s a rumor that’s been perpetuated for about that long. There are community gardens all over the place where people grow their own stuff, and I know a lot of my neighbors who grow their own stuff in their yards as well. Every large community has disclosures that residents sign, and a *small portion* of Daybreak was used for evaporation ponds (not tailings). There was a massive cleanup that occurred in the late 90’s under the direction of the state and the EPA where everything was restored back to a safe condition (You can google “Kennecott Daybreak EPA cleanup” and read the reports from the EPA). Bottom line, this is a rumor, it’s not true, everything that was contaminated was removed or cleaned up. It’s completely safe to grow and eat food in Daybreak.

      • Do your friends grow the food in raised beds or in the ground? I’ve heard that the only way possible in daybreak is to use raised beds.

  3. This, and towns like it, remind me (a little bit, anyway) of Seaside, Florida which was the setting for The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey. The town was the soundstage for a reality show involving all the townspeople.

  4. I was wondering about toxicity when I read that it was built on the site of an old copper mine.
    Diversity doesn’t apply to the cost of housing there , apparently.

  5. The pictures are lovely, but it looks like a plant museum or landscaping exhibit. Are there any children playing outside (or would that go against the rules of “livability”, kids often being noisy and messy)? Who does all the yard work, and when do they do it (all that pruning, sculpting, deadheading and mowing)? I didn’t see a leaf or petal out of place. Where does all the water come from to sustain all the required plantings?


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