The New Urbanism: The Other Side
With Links

July 1997 . Number 13

The "new urbanism" involves a number of proposed policies that would limit urban sprawl, and seek to limit dependency on the private automobile. Proponents point to Portland, Oregon as the public policy leader in this movement. In that city, the elected metropolitan government (Metro) has adopted a year "2040" plan that would virtually stop urban sprawl (by freeaing the "urban growth boundary"), force more dense residential and commerical development, make singnificantly expand the area's light rail system and place a moratorium on freeway (motorway) expansion. The Portland "model" is being touted around the world as a succees. But this is premature:

  • Portland's development is only now approaching the urban growth boundary. The Portland urbanized area's population density is very low, and continued to decline through 1990 (new census data will not be available until the 2000 census).

  • Even if the 2040 plan goals are achieved, Portland's population density will remain below that of the Los Angeles urbanized area, and the automobile market share will be little diminished.
The Portland model appears destined for failure. It's goals are extremely modest (necessary from a political perspective), and the higher densities and virtually unchanged automobile market share are likely to produce the worst traffic congestion in the US.
If there is anything worse that Los Angeles with its freeways, it is Los Angeles without its freeways --- something Portland appears on track to accomplish.

And it is not at all clear that the 2040 plan will be implemented.
  • There is a growing citizen movement in opposition to the plan. As of June 1997, signatures were being sought for a statewide voter initiative that would abolish metropolitan governments, such as Metro. Success of this initiative would leave no public authority with the power to implement the 2040 plan. The initiative would be on the November 1998 ballot, and is being proposed by the same citizens group that proposed the successful initiative to abolish funding for Portland's third light rail line (the $3 billion "South-North line).

  • Housing costs has risen very rapidly in Portland. It is reported that housing costs are now among the highest in the nation. The urban growth boundary is considered the primary factor in this development


Links to resources describing the "other side" of the new urbanism debate are listed below.

Additional links may be proposed:

Urban Planning & Transport:
Portland & Seattle Contrasted: Perception of Portland Superiority Mistaken

By Wendell Cox

Why Sprawl is Good
By Peter Gordon & Harry W. Richardson

Turning Portland into Los Angeles
By Randall O'Toole

Portland's Metro and the 2040 Plan
A Different Drummer

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