Rural Gentrification and the Spillover Effect: Integrated Transportation, Housing, and Land Use Challenges and Strategies in Gateway Communities

Danya Rumore, University of Utah



Small towns and cities near national parks, public lands, and other natural amenities throughout the west are experiencing rapid growth and increased visitation. These “gateway communities” comprise a significant portion of the rural west, constituting about 31% of all communities in the U.S. Mountain West and more than 60% of those under 25,000 people. Our prior NITC-funded research shows that growth and increased tourism create a range of “big city challenges” for gateway communities, particularly a significant increase in housing prices, which pushes the local workforce to outlying areas and other rural communities. As a result, despite being small towns, many developed gateway communities have large commuter-sheds and more employees who commute into the community than employees who live and work in the community. Our observations suggest this rural gentrification and its related spillover effect results in longer worker commutes, higher transportation costs, and impacts on transportation infrastructure, land use, access to opportunity, mobility, equity, and quality of life in these rural towns and cities and the regions around them. Our observations also suggest this trend has intensified in the last year and is now rapidly playing out across the rural West due to COVID-19, which has expedited amenity migration and resulted in the “Zoom Town” phenomenon of remote workers relocating from high-income urban areas to rural towns and cities. While we have plenty of anecdotal evidence that this is happening and creating profound impacts throughout the rural West, our understanding of these dynamics in gateway communities and appropriate solutions for addressing them is limited. To address this gap, we propose to study the extent to which gateway communities throughout the West are experiencing interconnected housing, transportation, and land use challenges and how increased visitation and growth affect these issues. We also will explore the innovative things these communities are doing to respond and what can be learned from their experiences for small and large communities throughout the country. We will do so through conducting a regional survey of over 1,800 western gateway communities; in-depth case studies of 6-10 gateway communities that are “out front” in experiencing and/or responding to these issues; and a series of workshops with gateway community representatives from across the West. We will also use Census data to map commuter-sheds and analyze growth and development trends in these places. The results of this study will be used to produce tools, guidelines, and policy recommendations to assist gateway communities and other rural and urban communities in tackling their interconnected housing, transportation, and land use concerns. This study will also allow us to develop a longitudinal database on planning and development challenges in western gateway communities, which are some of the most rapidly growing and changing areas in the United States, a trend that is likely to continue with major implications for local, regional, and national transportation systems, infrastructure, and economics, as well as the broader western landscape.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
In Progress
End Date:
December 31,2022
UTC Grant Cycle:
NITC 16 Round 5
UTC Funding: