Portland Planned: Inside and Out

“In the end, we are going to piss off just about everyone. And I have to say that, if that’s the result, I think we’ll have done more or less the right thing.” —Jeff Cogen, county commissioner

“You could call the goal of Oregon’s land-use laws “slow sprawl.” Growth is allowed, here and there, every once in a while, but at a pace that would seem geological in subdivision nirvanas like Arizona or Florida.”

Portland is Good, or rather 2X Good according to recent reportage by Good magazine.  Portland recently placed in Good’s top 100 for the integration of productive urban fauna, our homegrown beers, wines and produce, our streetcar, our +5% rate of bike commuting, and our high rates of urban planning literacy.  Its ironic that praise like this that has been heaped on Portland over the past decade is exactly what causes Portland to try to be that much more creative to manage the influx of people who want to move here; thus making the city do what it does all the time, but now in overdrive:  regional and urban planning.

Thus Good’s 2nd current article on Portland: Pushing the Limits, which eloquently describes the complex web of issues entailed in Portland’s newest planning efforts to designate 50 year urban and rural reserves for land currently outside of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB previously discussed here and here) to guide the incremental expansion of the city over the next half century. The reserves study area includes a sum total of 400,000 acres outside the current urban boundary.  Have other cities done this at this scale?

Metro map of proposed urban (purple) and rural (rural) reserves currently outside the U.G.B.  (Current Metro Maps are available here).

The article does a great job of documenting the on-the-ground realities and surreal juxtapositions that the UGB planning process generates: a dichotomous border landscape where you can encounter extensive bucolic farmland right next to high density town houses and strip malls).  It also describes both the inherent political warfare and the benefits that the reserves will provide.  The main benefit being the certainty of exactly where the city will expand and infrastructure will be strategically placed (the Good Article calls it “slow sprawl” in contrast to F.A.D.’s condensed sprawl) over the next 50 years.  No small task.

Prior to setting up the reserves process, Metro (Portland’s regional government) was essentially starting the process over from scratch every time (the ugb must be reassessed every five years) to determine where that expansion would happen.

The designation of urban and rural reserves is based on planning methods analogous to a multi-tiered,  McCargian layered GIS+ supreme wedding cake of analysis, particularly the detailed evaluation of regional ecosystem services (intro presentation here) that included consultation with the Audubon society.   Metro is currently in the final stages of determining these designations, with this month full of public open houses and show and tell.

…..and meanwhile, deep within the urban growth boundary…

The city of Portland (one of three counties circumscribed by the growth boundary) has embarked on the ambitious Portland Plan: a massive public participation effort focusing on nine action areas for a 25 year strategic plan for the city.  When I say ambitious, check out the background reports (disregard the cover graphics that look like they are meant for cereal boxes) which are possibly more interesting to study than the plan, particularly the Urban Form Report which surveys the current physical conditions of Portland.  The analysis is a little dry at points for my taste, but it has its worthwhile moments such as these:

“Portland’s intended urban form as expressed through a graphic depiction of Zoning code allowances for building heights and mixed-uses (in red)”

Portland Public realm (in black)

Matched inventory of previous plans, including Olmstead’s take on the city from 1903.

(quotes at top from Good)

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