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Chapter 3.7


Longer Planning Timeframe Needed
(The Oregonian, January 11, 1990)

By Richard Carson

In Oregon, each city, county and regional government (such as Metro) is required to establish an urban growth boundary to define the limits of its planning activities for growth. And without exception, every jurisdiction does its planning within a 20-year time frame.

But why 20 years? The Land Conservation and Development Commission doesn't require any specific time frame. Nor is there a statutory requirement. In fact, 20 years is merely a matter of tradition and timing.

Tradition in the sense that the planning profession's accepted primer, "Urban Land Use Planning," prescribes a 20- to 25-year time frame for comprehensive land-use plans (one year for capital improvement plans and five years for land development plans), and timing in the sense that comprehensive plans in Oregon were developed or acknowledged by LCDC in the late '70s. Planners simply chose a convenient horizon of the year 2000; about 20 years.

Now that we're halfway to that original horizon, we need to ask whether 20 years is adequate for the Portland metropolitan area. Otherwise, how do we explain that:

- A portion of an existing metropolitan-area freeway (Interstate 205) is outside the urban growth boundary.

- The public infrastructure, such as water and sewer, that terminates at the boundary is not always being sized for future development and may be costly to retrofit.

- The proliferation of 1-, 5- and 10-acre I hobby farms and executive estates, outside of and adjacent to the urban growth boundary, that may prevent future urban expansion.

Participants in a recent series of Metro-sponsored workshops suggested that the 20-year horizon might create more problems than it solves, and that a 50-, 75- or even 100-year time frame makes more sense for a major metropolitan area of 1.2 million people.

Fifty years could reasonably be considered a minimum. After all, water districts use a 50-year horizon, one-fourth of all U.S. homes are more than 50 years old, a floodplain is measured by 100 years, and the average lifetime of a U.S. resident is 74 years.

More important, the major natural and manmade land features that physically divide and guide the metropolitan landscape for which we're planning (e.g., the Willamette River, the West Hills and Interstate 5), aren't going to change in the next 50 years.

What's more, 20 years isn't even enough time to allow for a generational shift. In the words of Greek planning authority Constantinos Doxiadis:

"One generation is a minimum unit to be reckoned for specific plans. This being so, the period of projection for our more comprehensive plans should be two or three generations long. And if it is three generations long, it may as well be a period of 100 years."

"We cannot solve the problems of major settlements with 5-, 10-, and 20-year programs only, because these problems have been created over many generations and require corresponding periods for their solution."

This means that while we can continue to plan for our specific land use and infrastructure needs within the existing 20- to 25-year time frame, we also can designate and protect a 25- to 75-year supply of "future urban" lands within a single regional boundary.

We can plan for the region's future in terms of transportation, homes and businesses, parks and natural areas, air and water quality. We can also protect farm, forest and future urban lands from rural residential development. We just need an adequate canvas on which we can plan, protect and build that future, and a 20-year canvas may be too small.

Communities throughout the United States are now struggling to catch up with what we in Oregon did 15 years ago, and we are fortunate to be so far along with our planning processes. But we must not be content to rest on our laurels.

Richard H. Carson is director of planning and development for the Metropolitan Service District.

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Common Sense
by Richard H. Carson