GNARly Challenges, GNARly Solutions: Integrated Housing, Transportation, and Land Use Challenges and Strategies in Gateway Communities

With initial funding from the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, we have launched a flagship multi-year study to explore interconnected housing, transportation, and land use challenges and strategies in western gateway communities. The aim of this study is to explore the state of planning and development in western gateway communities, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to create tools, guidelines, and planning and policy recommendations to assist gateway communities and the regions around them in responding to current and emerging challenges and opportunities.

Opportunities to partner in this study

As part of this study, we will be conducting in-depth case studies on gateway communities that are “out front” in experiencing and dealing with integrated housing, transportation, and land use issues. These case studies will be conducted in partnership with communities and with the help of students. We plan to continue adding case studies to our database as resources allow.

We welcome involvement and support from:

  • Gateway communities that want to partner on a local case study
  • Graduate and undergraduate students from any discipline or university who want to assist with this study
  • Sponsors and other partners who want to provide funding or other resources to support this study

If you have questions or are interested in supporting or partnering in this study, please contact Initiative Coordinator Elizabeth Sodja at

Project Overview

Our prior research shows that growth and increased tourism create a range of “big city challenges” for western gateway communities, particularly a significant increase in housing prices, which pushes the local workforce to outlying areas and other rural communities. As a result, 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 observation suggests this rural gentrification and related spillover effect results in longer worker commutes, higher transportation costs, and impacts on transportation infrastructure, land use, access to opportunity, quality of life, and mobility in these rural towns and cities and the regions around them. Our observation also suggests this trend has been intensified in the last year and is now rapidly playing out in gateway communities across the 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 small 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 have launched a study to explore the extent to which gateway communities throughout the West are experiencing interconnected housing, transportation, and land use challenges and how increased visitation and growth affects 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 and globally. We will do so through conducting a regional survey of over 1,800 western gateway communities; in-depth case studies of 6+ gateway communities that are “out front” in dealing with and responding to these issues; and a series of focus groups with gateway community representatives from across the west. We will also use Census data to map commuter-sheds and understand 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 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.

For more information, click here for an overview of the research proposal.

Meet the Team

This project is a collaborative effort involving numerous community partners, students, and academics. The Principal Investigators leading this effort are:

  • Danya Rumore, Ph.D. (University of Utah): Danya is the Founder and a Co-Director of the GNAR Initiative. She is a professor of planning and law and the Director of the Wallace Stegner Center’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Program at the University of Utah. She specializes in collaborative, community-based research and has expertise in mixed-methods social science.
  • Philip Stoker, Ph.D. (University of Arizona): Philip Stoker is an Assistant Professor of Planning and Landscape Architecture in the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. Philip holds a Ph.D. in Metropolitan Planning, Policy, and Design from the University of Utah where he completed his thesis on urban water use and sustainability. His academic foundations are in ecology, planning, and natural resource management. He has conducted environmental and social science research internationally, including work with the World Health Organization, Parks Canada, the National Park Service and the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games

Additional Information

  • Click here to download an excerpt of the proposal
  • Here is a video about the commutershed mapping process for each case study community: