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Chapter 3.8


Planning for Growth
(Oregon Business Magazine, January 1990,reprinted
in The Daily Journal of Commerce, August 27, 1990)

By Richard H. Carson

In the 1990s the Portland metropolitan area will be faced with major choices, but none so difficult as balancing urban growth with our quality of life. By the year 2000, the region's population will have increased to 1.6 million. That's another 211,000 people who will need housing, schools and public services. Employment will increase to 806,000, creating 128,000 more jobs located in new offices, shopping centers and factories.

The next decade will be far different than the last. The recession of the early 1980s had a profound influence on how each of us perceived our urban environment  they were years without growth or development.

When the Portland metropolitan area's economy took off again, it only increased the contrast between the years of no growth and growth. The result is that we enter the next decade with a new wave of public concern about the impacts of growth and the need to protect our quality of life.

The late 1980s saw a national trend toward growth issues and related citizen initiatives. In June 1988, a limits-to-growth initiative was defeated in Orange County, Calif. The development community there spent $2 million mounting a successful campaign to stop a proposal that would have allowed new development only when all services could be built and maintained. In the new limits-to-growth lexicon, this is called "concurrency."

In November 1988, a similar initiative was defeated in San Diego County. This time it cost the development community $2.5 million. That defeat followed a successful vote in the city of San Diego to restrict new housing development.

In Seattle, in May 1989 voters approved the "Citizen's Alternative Plan," which limits development in the downtown core.

This all sounds vaguely familiar because the concepts of "slow growth," "controlled growth" and "no growth" came to the national forefront in the 1960s. Communities such as Petaluma, Calif.; Boulder, Colo.; and Boca Raton, Fla. Acted to limit or stop growth.

Those early experiments were initiated to preserve each community's quality of life in the face of perceived rapid uncontrolled development. A variety of growth-inhibiting tools were used, such as construction moratoriums, quotas on housing types, and caps on the number of units.

Oregon pioneered the concept of statewide land use planning in the early 1970s in response to the same perception of unmanaged growth and urban sprawl.

In this region [the Portland metropolitan area], the question was not when would growth become an issue, but how would it manifest itself. The citizens who participated in Oregon's land-use planning process of the 1970s are not the same ones who are involved today. Growth has brought with it a resurgence of new citizen activists who don't want to see the gentrification of their neighborhoods or to see the open field next door developed  even if they don't own it.

All of us must accept the challenges of growth. To succeed, we must bring people back into the planning process. Government, business and citizens must become partners of change and not adversaries.

This region has done a good job managing its growth. The allocation of land for development and the delivery of efficient services are reasons we have some of the lowest land costs on the West Coast. The same can be said for our balanced transportation system that was built through a regional consensus.

Money A Problem

However, our ability to deliver adequate services in the future will be a major problem. Federal dollars are no longer available to underwrite the expansion of water and sewer systems. Existing homeowners don't want to pay for the newcomers. Add to this the more stringent federal water quality standards now being enforced in places like the Tualatin River and the Columbia Slough, and the cost to taxpayers will be higher.

The major difference between this metropolitan area and others on the West Coast is we have the opportunity and the ability to plan and manage our growth. We can implement preventive strategies. Instead of reactionary ones that treat the symptoms and not the cause of our urban problems.

Our West Coast neighbors have paid a high price for their symptomatic approach to planning. They could reach no consensus about their economic, environmental and social values. They are preoccupied with "damage control" because of the dramatic breakdown of their urban systems and the degradation to their quality of fife.

The Metropolitan Service District (Metro) has initiated an urban growth management process to seek a new consensus on how to manage growth. This process will develop regional goals and objectives and identify strategies for managing the effects of growth on the economy and the environment of the region in the 1990s.

The purpose of this urban growth management process is threefold:

- To accommodate population growth, economic growth, and an adequate urban land supply;

- To ensure the timely and cost-effective provision of public facilities; and

- To do both In a way that natural resources and our quality of life.

This is an inclusive process to solicit everyone's ideas. Metro is working toward creating a framework by which it can implement future regional planning programs. Among those programs addressed are the:

- Management of our air and our watersheds;
- Region's transportation needs in terms of light rail, mass transit and freeways;
- Need for an adequate industrial land supply;
- Need for affordable and low-income housing;
- Management of the region's solid waste facilities;
- Creation of open space concert with development; and
- Preservation of our urban natural areas.

Metro has initiated this planning process for a very simple reason  growth will occur and the effects of growth are very real. If we do not succeed in bringing people back into the planning process, they will take the law into their own hands and legislate through the citizen initiative process. Then we will not have to worry about "urban growth management" because we will be doing "crisis management" like our neighboring metropolitan areas.

The Oregon of the 1960s and 1970s was a state that embraced new possibilities and implemented the bottle bill, cleaned-up the Willamette River, initiated statewide land-use planning, and created the only regional government in the nation (Metro) with locally elected officials.

What is needed is a new vision of how Oregon and the Portland metropolitan area should grow in the 1990s. It is a time to bring creativity and ideas into a planning process that is becoming stagnant because of its litigious nature.

The fulfillment of this vision for the decade of the 1990s will depend on whether the individual citizen, environmentalist, businessperson and government official participate in its creation and work together to make it happen.

Richard H. Carson is director of the planning and development department for Metro and is in charge of regional planning for urban growth management, parks and natural areas, water quality, and solid waste.

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Common Sense
by Richard H. Carson