I thought a little reality test would be in order. Especially since the New Urbanists decided to hold their annual conference here -- in beautiful Portland, Oregon this June -- in the so-called Mecca of urban planning. One of goals of Smart Growth is to achieve higher densities in urban areas. So one would assume that, after 25 years of statewide land use planning and urban growth boundaries in Oregon, that the Portland metropolitan area would have achieved a higher density than most other metropolitan areas around the country. But it's not so. The "State and Metropolitan Area Data Book 1997-98," put out by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, gives densities for metropolitan counties MSA (metropolitan statistical areas). The Portland-Salem's metropolitan area's density is actually less than both Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and even Atlanta. About the only place we have a higher density than is Phoenix. In fact, the combined Portland-Salem metro areas are ranked only 70th out of 245 MSAs. So the region doesn't even get into the top quartile. You can check it out on the web at http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/metro06.prn
Is there a lesson to be learned from this reality? Yes, when we accuse some place or the other of sprawl, we better have our facts straight. I mean it could be embarrassing. We in the Portland metropolitan area don't want to be portrayed as the Potemkin Village of urban planning or Smart Growth.
Richard H. Carson is an elected official of the American Planning Association, former editor of the "Oregon Planners' Journal," former director of METRO (the regional government for the Portland metropolitan area) and currently maintains an Internet list of planning editors. You can reach him via the Internet at his web page at http://richcarson.homestead.com/home.html
by Richard H. Carson
New York-New Jersey
Richard H. Carson is director of Oregon City's Community Development Department.