USA - Oregon (Portland) - Sustainable City

Portland was falling into a downward spiral of urban decay, sprawl, and the multiple problems stemming from car-centered development. Not wanting to follow the same pattern that characterized most North American cities, Portland has helped to spearhead a movement towards urban livability. With urban growth boundaries, quality public transportation, and broad-based citizen participation in everything from local and regional planning to neighborhood associations, Portland is at the forefront of a movement to create livable urban regions in North America.


Metropolitan Portland (herein referred to as Portland), population 1.95 million (538,180 in the city proper), is the 25th largest metropolitan area in the US. It has received more attention than any other urbanized region of North America as an example of intelligent urban planning. By being able to anticipate and manage some of the powerful social, cultural, market, political, legal and fiscal forces that allow development to eat up rural and virgin lands, Portland is reining in the kind of runaway sprawl that dominates the North American landscape. It is doing so through an evolving process of collaboration between citizens, the grassroots, city officials, planners and other professionals working at various levels to more deeply understand--and work with--fundamental connections between land-use, transportation, demographics, employment and economics.

Since 1978, the country’s only regionally elected government, Portland Metro, coordinates between Portland’s incorporated cities and counties, with a specific responsibility to address growth and land use by, for example, orienting growth clustered along transportation corridors, creating a mix of transportation options, encouraging compact urban design, and proactively anticipating long-term growth. Now Portland is facing the next challenge of absorbing the projected influx of newcomers which threatens to undermine some of these important gains made in the last several decades.

The region has attracted visitors from North America and overseas, many of whom are keen to learn more about how to replicate some of its successes. However, population pressures are overwhelming the Portland region’s ability to absorb the influx of new people, fuelling congestion and rises in land and housing prices. Much of the population growth impacting this region--and the entire state--is a result of Californians fleeing north, as well as other newcomers attracted to the region because of its reputation. (see “Challenges” in Summary section). With population projections of up to 2.5 million people by the year 2040, Portland’s growth rate is twice the national average. With these challenges ahead, it remains to be seen whether this growth will threaten the very assets Portland’s progressive land-use planning policies have managed to protect so far.


Pioneers began to settle in the early 1800s on the banks of Willamette River, a location which was well-suited to being a major port and redistribution center. Most of those who settled there were family farmers and neighborhood merchants (the more adventurous gold rushers going either north or south).

In 1859, Oregon became a state, and its legislature was mostly dominated by well-financed special interests (largely out of state financiers and land speculators) in the 1880s and 1890s. Oregonian farmers chafed at this control of their economy by these outsiders, and the Populist movement in the late 1800s appealed to these sensibilities. This had a significant influence on Oregonian politics, and in 1902, a series of government reforms began, such as initiative and referendum, direct primary elections, municipal home rule, the 10-hour workday for women and corrupt practices act.

Some of this early history created a tradition of participatory democracy for which Portland’s success today is credited. As community leader Bruce Adams writes, “The Populist rout of special-interest control of Oregon's politics and government at the turn of the century left an indelible mark on the political culture of the state.” (Adams, Bruce: “The Portland Way.” From Boundary Crossers: Case Studies of How Ten of America's Metropolitan Regions Work (Academy of Leadership, 1998)).

Governor Tom McCall and Senate Bill 100

In the postwar period of the 1950s and 1960s, Portland, like most other growing American cities, saw spreading suburbs and the corresponding decay of the downtown core and urban neighborhoods. In 1967, a maverick Republican named Tom McCall became Governor of Oregon. Under his term, which lasted until 1975, several important pieces of environmental legislation were introduced, such as the Beach Bill of 1969 (assuring public access to the beaches, including across private land, which codified the policy set by Governor Oswald West in the 1930s), and the Bottle Bill of 1971 (which was the nation’s first mandatory bottle-deposit law).

Most importantly, he introduced three bills which were to radically change the state’s land-use laws. With the backing of an unlikely coalition of farmers and environmentalists, he convinced the Oregon Legislature to pass Senate Bill 10 in 1969, which required every city and county in the state to have a comprehensive land-use plan. It was intended to protect the state’s natural beauty, easy access to nature, and farming heritage against the forces of sprawl (which characterized, in particular, Los Angeles to the south). Unfortunately, Senate Bill 10 lacked teeth—there was no enforcement capacity nor technical support for the cities and counties to carry this out.

Senate Bill 100, introduced in 1973, was created to address the weakness of Senate Bill 10. It established a new commission of seven people called the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC), the administering agency of the planning program. It was directed to adopt goals for city/county comprehensive plans. Eighty public hearings around the State asked citizens’ input on what those goals should be. After the hearings, the commission adopted thirteen state-wide planning goals for city and county plans, and were very comprehensive, including goals for farmland/forest protection, urban growth, housing, economic development, protection of natural resources, public facilities and infrastructure, transport, air and water quality, natural hazards, recreation, coastal resources, and the Willamette River shoreline. The scope and potency of the LCDC meant that state environmental protection acts (like the California’s Environmental Quality Act) are irrelevant, because the process embodied in the LCDC is more comprehensive and streamlined.

In 1973, Senate Bill 101 was introduced, which was a separate bill on farmland protection, which was passed by the legislature at the same time as the Oregon land use law. However, it more effectively established a policy framework than Senate Bill 100 itself. These three bills, 10, 100, and 101 were the foundation of Oregon’s land-use planning, of which Portland is the most visible example.

This set of laws obliged every city and county in the state to have a long-range plan addressing growth that not only met state but also local goals

In a nutshell, this state land use program includes:

  • requiring cities to create urban growth boundaries (UGBs) around every city and county in the state (see more on section on UGBs below)
  • requires cities and counties to rezone urban land for affordable types of housing (which ended up increasing permitted residential densities)
  • requires changes to the transportation network and urban design to reduce dependence on automobiles
  • establishes state zoning for all farm, range and forest lands in order to protect the land base for farming, ranching and timber production
  • requires the identification and protection of natural resources
  • changes the way land use decisions are made

This land-use regime has been an important milestone in the region’s, and the State’s, histories, and the coalitions Tom McCall created were to become part of the organization he founded called 1000 Friends of Oregon which is still a major voice in Oregon’s grassroots today (see description of 1000 Friends later in the document). However, state land-use planning has issues with enforcement and the discrepancy between reality and what is simply on paper. Moreover, it is a regulatory framework and as such has more emphasis about what cities and counties cannot do and less about how cities should be designed in the first place, which would make it achievable. This has been an emerging preoccupation among citizens, civil society and government in the 1980s and 1990s and which continues today.

Neil Goldschmidt and the 1972 Downtown Plan

While these changes were going on in the State legislature, Neil Goldschmidt, a young, charismatic city councillor was elected mayor of Portland City proper in 1972. His progressive policies complemented McCall’s at the state level. Within two terms, he had revamped Portland’s governing structure to increase the level of citizen participation and power. He won the election on a platform to stop the planned Mount Hood Freeway and the $500,000 million in federal funding for it was injected instead into lines for the light-rail system, which was to start running lines in 1986. He was part of various other important initiatives, including the opening in 1974 of the Office of Neighborhood Associations (ONA), whose role was to provide technical support and training to these new citizen groups. Today, there are nearly 100 active associations, with some 4,500 citizens involved with them (see the section on Neighborhood Associations).

Before, and during his time in office, Goldschmidt was involved in the adoption of the 1972 Downtown Plan. This was a strategy to revitalize the urban core. By the early 1970s, the downtown area had been violating federal carbon monoxide standards on average once every three days. Meanwhile, retail business was losing out to malls in the suburbs. The Plan was the basis for Portland’s downtown revival, and it was deeply rooted in citizens’ advisory committees. Through this mechanism, citizens were consulted extensively on all projects, including the development of McCall Waterfront Park (described below), the revival and design of the downtown core, and the development of the light rail system. A bus mall (Portland Mall) was created downtown to speed up services and act as a transfer point to other lines. It also tied downtown with other regions together along a north-south axis. Any citizen was free to join any of the subcommittees on topics such as parking, waterfront development, housing and retailing.

The Downtown Plan was updated in 1980 to address changes related to scale and design of development. It had 3 key elements

  1. pedestrian amenities
  2. mix of densities and activities and land uses, especially retail and housing
  3. good access through management of parking resources and greater reliance on public transportation.

Neil Goldschmidt was the city commissioner from 1967-1973 and was later mayor, who led the revitalization of the downtown and the creation of Tri-Met. In 1987 he became Governor of Oregon. He has been credited for these major achievements in the city and the Downtown Plan, major aspects of which are described below. (Recently, however, his reputation has since been tainted by a sex scandal emerged in 2004 when he admitted to having an affair with a 14-year old minor during his first term as mayor).

The Freeway Revolts

Since the end of World War II, some four highways were built (sometimes in the face of heated opposition): Interstates 84, 5, 405, and 205. Two of these, though, were extremely controversial (Interstate 505 and the Mount Hood Freeway) because they cut through established urban residential neighborhoods. One section of the freeway was built but the rest remained a contentious issue. The 1976 mayoral elections, with Neil Goldschmidt opposing the freeway and opponent Frank Ivancie supporting it, the election became a de facto referendum on the issue. Neil Goldschmidt won the race, and the freeway was cancelled, with the proposed $50,000 in federal funding for the project injected instead into the light rail system as well as the bus system and arterial street improvements The network expanded to include sections along Interstate 205 in spaces that resulted from the controversy.

Soon after this victory, Interstate 505 proposal was cancelled and a shorter freeway “stub” was built instead, and US Highway 30 was routed on a new alignment through an industrial area (not the residential neighborhood originally proposed).

Since the mid-1980s (after the completion of Interstate #205), there have been no new freeways built in the region (other than realignments or other improvements). Since the removal of Harbor Drive (to create McCall Waterfront Park), many other US cities have demolished freeways (or are considering doing so).

The Tom McCall Waterfront Park

In 1968, Governor Tom McCall initiated a task force to study the feasibility of replacing Harbor Drive (a limited-access freeway which ran along the Willamette river) Harbor Drive was paralleled by Front Avenue (now Naito Parkway), which could and does carry the in-city portion of the Harbor Drive traffic and open park space instead. The task force recommended this conversion. While the removal of Harbor Drive was not controversial (since Harbor Drive was paralleled by Front Avenue, now Naito Parkway, which could, and still does, carry the in-city portion of Harbor Drive traffic), its closure was significant as it was the first time in the country that a freeway had been removed and not replaced. This, along with the later cancellation of Interstate #505 and the Mount Hood freeway, began to cement Portland’s reputation as a alternative urban model. The park was built in 1978, and in 1984 was renamed the Tom McCall Waterfront Park to commemorate this grandfather of state land- use planning, who had died in 1973. The creation of this park allowed the city to reconnect with the Willamette River.

Another significant development was the creation of Pioneer Square, which designed by Will Martin to be the “living room” of Portland. Among other things, Pioneer Square was once the site of a historic hotel which at one time had been bulldozed and replaced by a two-level parking lot. In the late 1960s, a proposal was floated to turn it into an 11-story parking garage, which was denied by the City after a series of heated public hearings. The proposal in part prompted the downtown business community to undertake a comprehensive planning program that later evolved into the Downtown Plan of 1972.

The creation of Pioneer Square involved removal of the parking lot and was concurrent with the creation of the new MAX Light Rail system. With funding from Tri-Met, the city’s transit agency, the square was designed with stairs meant for sitting, and with room for a café and food vendors (though now there is some controversy over plans to evict them). Opened in 1984, is a hub for buses and light rail trains, and hosts community events and street buskers. The City set up an events management program, so there would always be a high level of activity. Part of Goldschmidt's idea of the downtown is that security would rely on lots of people being around at all hours instead of only during business hours like other American cities’ downtown cores, and to get people to come downtown by providing experiences they would not get at the mall. Goldschmit also planned for new housing in and next to downtown to add life to streets and stores all day long. Other areas of the city which have been revived are the River District, the Waterfront, the South Park Blocks and the Pearl District.

One design which ties Portland together is small blocks, only 200 feet long. This was originally intended to maximize store frontage and street access. Portland requires new buildings to maintain retail frontages, to avoid entire blocks of blank walls or parking garages that kill pedestrain level interest and vitality. These 200 foot blocks have been maintained in new districts like the South Waterfront.

In 1988, the Central City Plan again retains elements from earlier plans, focusing on urban design, subdistricts and other elements to improve walkability.

Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs)

UGBs are a tight form of zoning created to contain urban sprawl. They mark the formal, and legal, boundary between urban and rural land which encircles a city or metropolitan region. In Oregon, according to the state laws which grew out of Senate Bill 100, UGBs are required to contain an adequate supply of buildable land to accommodate growth which is expected to occur over a 20-year period. By providing land for urban uses within the boundary, farmland and open spaces can be protected from spillover development from urban areas.

In Oregon, every incorporated city has a UGB. The Portland region’s UGB was adopted in 1979, and includes 25 cities and urban portions of three counties, and contains 237,000 acres and approximately 364 square miles.

The largest ever expansion of Portland’s UGB occurred in 2002 at 18,700 acres and the city of Damascus was formed in 2004 in an area of UGB expansion. It was the first new city in probably two decades. Partly the reason for the size of this expansion was so that planning for the new region at a larger scale could occur.

Metro’s responsibility is to work with local governments to project growth in their areas for the next 20 years and adjust the UGBs accordingly. Land identified for annexation into the UGB is decided by vote.

It is generally understood among the land-use/environment community that UGBs or other land-use laws alone are not expected to prevent sprawl. They are simply one tool in a larger package of planning measures to manage growth. As academic/consultant team Robert Lang and Steven Hornburg wrote:

“UGBs work best when linked to a comprehensive regional planning strategy. …San Jose and Seattle, to mention just two notable examples, have recently instituted UGBs. Our fear is that these regions will use UGBs to slow development rather than fully integrate them into a comprehensive planning strategy as Portland has done. If booming metropolitan areas apply UGBs indiscriminately, the result will be harsh limits on land supply precisely when land costs are under the most pressure due to growth—a sure recipe for a housing affordability crisis”. (Robert E. Lang and Steven P. Hornburg. “Planning Portland Style: Pitfalls and Possibilities.” Online: Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

The Emergence of Metro Council

In addition to city and county jurisdictions, metropolitan Portland voters are also served by Metro Council, the first and only directly-elected regional government in the US. The power granted to this regional identity is still unheard-of elsewhere in the country.

Metro evolved out of its predecessor, the Columbia Region Association of Governments (CRAG), which was intended to oversee issues that transcended traditional city and county boundaries, not only regarding land use and growth but also trans-jurisdictional issues such as waste disposal.

Preceding Metro’s formation in 1979, CRAG had been grappling unsuccessfully with certain regional issues, including the siting of a garbage dump. At around this time, some legislators began to push for a regional government that could deal with this problem more effectively than this loose network of local jurisdictions could. In 1978 the region’s voters passed a ballot measure and the Metropolitan Service District came into being in January of 1979.

In its early days, the fledgling agency had certain responsibilities such as the Oregon Zoo, some city parks, the Convention Center the Expo Center, and regional planning. Its operational costs were much lower because many positions were unpaid.

The economic slump of the 1980s was followed by another period of growth, and the population pressures brought home the need again for land-use planning at the regional level. In 1992, voters approved a home-rule charter (called the Metro Charter) that identified Metro’s focus on planning and policymaking to preserve the quality of life for the region. This changed the agency’s name to Metro. The charter has since been amended in November of 2000 to accommodate some structural reorganization.

Metro serves 27 jurisdictions (25 cities and 3 counties) in metropolitan Portland.

They include:

Counties: Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington

Cities: Beaverton, Cornelius, Durham, Fairview, Forest Grove, Gladstone, Gresham, Happy Valley, Hillsboro, Johnson City, King City, Lake Oswego, Maywood Park, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Portland, Rivergrove, Sherwood, Tigard, Troutdale, Tualatin, West Linn, Wilsonville, Wood Village.

While Metro does not replace any municipal governments, it has a portfolio of responsibilities outsourced onto it by individual cities. These are:

  • the management of a closed landfill, solid waste disposal and recycling
  • regional transportation and land-use planning, and the Region 2040 Growth Concept
  • regional parks and green spaces protection and acquisition (via bond measures etc.)
  • responsibility over the region’s GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and Regional Land Information System (RLIS)
  • regional fish and wildlife habitat protection
  • ensuring citizens’ easy access to nature through the Nature in Neighborhoods program
  • the Oregon Zoo
  • Through the Metropolitan Exposition-Recreation Commission Metro manages the Oregon Convention Center, the Civic Stadium, the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and the Expo Center

Metro is governed by a regionally-elected council president, an auditor, and six councilors elected by district. There are two major requirements stated in the Metro Charter. One is that it must develop a Future Vision, which must address all factors that make the region a desirable place to live; that is, to accommodate growth without compromising people’s quality of life, to preserve natural areas, and to maintain quality of both air and water. Some of its work has been creating a network of parks, trails and open spaces inside the UGB, protecting streams and upland natural areas, the development of ‘greenfrastructure’ or ecological design to minimize stormwater runoff, retrofitting streets with bike lanes and sidewalks, parking restrictions, and traffic calming measures.

The second major requirement is that Metro adopt a regional plan which addresses the UGB and transportation, as well as housing density, urban design, open spaces, and water supply. It also must provide concrete details on how the local jurisdictions’ own plans must comply with the Regional Framework Plan. The latter will be developed in line with the completion of the Region 2040 Growth Concept and following inputs from local governments. (see more about this in the section on the 2040 Growth Concept.

The 2040 Growth Concept

The 2040 Growth Concept is a result of large-scale, collaborative effort led by Metro that has involved the input of tens of thousands of citizens, NGOs, business, and other planners employed by Metro (three of whom are now Fregonese Calthorpe staff, including Glen Bolen, John Fregonese and David Ausherman). The intitiave was intended to unite all areas under Metro’s jurisdiction to design a vision, or template, of what this fast-growing region will look like 50 years into the future. The Region 2040 Growth Concept is not designed to be a fixed, inflexible concept but rather represents the best prototype of the current desired urban form.

The Region 2040 Growth Concept evolved out of earlier plans like RUGGOs (Regional Urban Growth Goals and Objectives). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a set of regional growth management objectives, the creation of the Metro Charter, and a regional land information system all highlighted the need for a comprehensive package that united the various frameworks and plans.

In 1991, a framework called the Regional Urban Growth Goals and Objectives (RUGGOs) was adopted, which was a starting point, or set of building blocks, for developing a more focused vision for the future growth development of the Portland area.

Though there was general agreement about the appropriateness among cities and counties of RUGGOs, they were not concrete enough. The Region 2040 was a way to refine and specify the goals and create specific policies, especially about land-use and transportation planning.

In a nutshell, the 2040 Growth Concept is a blueprint for the ideal form of regional growth and development expected to take place until the year 2040, which was adopted in the Region 2040 planning process, and includes the 2040 Growth Concept map. It is meant to address growth management at a higher scale--regional and temporal--than each county or city could imagine on its own. It includes a general approach to approximately where and how much the urban growth boundary should be expanded (estimated to have about 14,500 acres to be added), what ranges of density are estimated to accommodate this projected growth inside the boundary, and which areas should be protected as open space. The Growth Concept is designed to find ways to accommodate 720,000 new residents and 350,000 new jobs. The total population served by the plan is 1.8 million residents within the Metro Boundary. It is expected to grow to nearly 2 million people by 2010 (Oregon’s total population is 3 million).

The 2040 Growth Concept began as a way to define the directions that Metro laid out in the Regional Urban Growth Goals and Objectives (RUGGOs) and to determine how Metro should best manage its UGB. Formerly called Region 2040, it was based on the idea that a longer time frame would allow Metro to better explore the consequences of public policies.

From 1992-1994 there followed an intense period of work and citizen participation on the 2040 Growth Concept, of which Fregonese Calthorpe (see next section) was a major player, along with Metro. The first step of the process began in 1992 as a way, through citizen participation to gauge people’s values about their region through random surveys, direct mail marketing, paid advertising and focus groups. The ‘visioning’ was intended to help Metro define a system of open spaces and identify a hierarchy of places ranging from downtown Portland to existing towns and regional centers. Results of citizen participation showed a high level of concern about maintaining open spaces, their neighborhoods and transportation accessibility, as well as supporting transit improvements over road improvements.

This was followed by the modeling/analysis of four alternative scenarios. This was based on inputs from policy-makers, planning professionals, business leaders and citizens throughout the region. One ‘base case’ and three scenarios were identified:

The Base Case: This was the projection of the future based on current trends. This meant the greatest expansion of the UGB compared with other scenarios (an addition of 121,000 acres with a total area of 354,000 acres within the expanded UGB), with the continuation of growth patterns that occurred between 1985 and 1990. There would be a high level of growth at the outer edges.

Concept A describes ‘growing out’: This would involve a significant expansion of the UGB (an additional 51,000 acres for a total of 284,000 acres within the UGB), with new growth at the urban edge mostly in the form of housing.

Concept B describes ‘growing up’: This would prohibit (or limit) expansion of the UGB (keeping it at 234,000 acres in the UGB), with growth accommodated through development of existing land within the urban growth boundary (by using infill and more compact development)

Concept C describes ‘neighboring cities’. This would involve a moderate expansion of the UGB (an additional 22,000 acres for a total of 257,000 acres within the UGB) with growth focused primarily on centers, corridors, and neighboring cities.

During the process of gathering citizen input, some people questioned the assumption of growth as being desirable, or at least, inevitable. In response to this, the technical analysis included this question, and the feasibility of slowing down or stopping growth altogether.

Through an intense period between 1992 and 1994, public input was sought through various routes. 3-D maps were set up on tables at coffee shops with 3-D glasses provided for people to look at the maps and make comments. There were free information videos at the video chains available to anyone. A questionnaire was sent to every home in the region (more than 500,000 households), 17,000 of which were returned.

Rather than choosing one of the Concepts out of the choices listed, a hybrid Growth Concept was created which incorporated elements from all three plans but most closely resembled Concept C. The scenario drew upon the best features of different approaches. The UGB expansion would be between 15,000 and 19,000 acres added over 50 years, bringing the total land within the UGB between 248,000 and 252,000 acres). Growth would be encouraged in centers and corridors, with increased attention on redevelopment within the UGB. It was unanimously adopted by Metro in 1995.

The 2040 Growth Concept incorporates all of the features to which Portland is already well-known to be aspiring: compact development, mixed-use neighborhoods, a diversity of housing types, transportation intimately coordinated with land-use, TODs, protected spaces, etc. The important aspect of this is that it is a result of citizen input, and the vision is laid out concretely on various maps.

The 2040 Growth Concept map shows different design types: Central city (downtown Portland, regional centers (currently there are eight of these, which are the centers of certain local jurisdictions), town centers (smaller city centers), main streets, corridors (major streets that are key transportation routes for people and goods), station communities (centers around light-rail stations that have shops, services and parking facilities), neighborhoods, neighboring cities/green corridors, rural reserves/open spaces, industrial areas and freight terminals (hubs for regional commerce, industrial land, and freight facilities for truck, marine, air and rail cargo) provide the ability to generate and move goods in and out of the region.

A fundamental part of the Growth Concept is a multi-modal transportation system that assures mobility of people and goods without congestion. This means transportation system must be closely coordinated with land uses. It means a reduction of residential lot sizes and a reduction in the number of commercial parking spaces. As well, mixed-use urban centers inside the UGB are also fundamental, by creating higher density centers of employment, housing, and transit service with compact development in a walkable environment. Compact Regional Centers, with amenities and employment opportunities clustered around it, lie outside the central cities are connected by high-capacity transit and highways. In turn, connected to these are smaller Town Centers with their own shopping and employment opportunities within a local market area. This is intended to seek a balance between jobs and housing in order to ‘localize’ as many transportation trips as possible. Therefore, not only should a balance of jobs and housing be maintained at these more central nodes, but this is also a goal at the sub-nodal goal as well.

The 2040 Growth Concept was a landmark step the region has taken in order to help guide the metropolitan area’s future direction, and serves as the foundation for functional plans, or the packages of concrete actions each local governing body needs to take in order to collectively approximate the 2040 Growth Concept. These functional plans include the Urban Growth Management Functional Plan, the Regional Framework Plan, an updated Regional Transportation Plan, and eventual changes to local comprehensive plans. While these terms may be confusing, the various functional plans have their specific functions.

The Urban Growth Management Functional Plan was adopted in 1996 and went into effect in 1997. It sets up concrete specific requirements and tools for local governments to help the region meet the growth management goals laid out in the 2040 Growth Concept. It might include, among other things:

  • The accommodation of projected growth in the local comprehensive plans
  • A regional parking policy
  • Water quality and floodplain management
  • Regulations of new large-scale retail developments
  • Coordination with neighboring cities
  • Coordination of transportation and land-use planning
  • Affordable housing program recommendations

The functional plan also attempts to ensure that cities and counties are equitably held to the same standards. In order to monitor progress, performance measures are being developed that scrutinize advancements against benchmarks in several key areas every two years. In November of 1996, after unanimous approval from its local government advisory committee, the Metro Council adopted the functional plan, which went into effect in Feb of 97. Local governments still collaborate with Metro to revise their own plans and zoning laws.

The Regional Framework Plan (RFP) was adopted in 1997, with which all region’s local plans had to be consistent. While the Urban Growth Management Functional Plan sets out specific requirements for individual cities and counties, the RFP is an integrated set of planning policies that direct Metro’s efforts to manage the impacts of growth. The RFP includes policies on land use, transportation, parks and green spaces, water and air quality, natural hazards planning and management and implementation issues. The plan also addresses coordinating these policies with Clark County, Washington, which is important because Clark County is becoming engulfed by metropolitan region but does not fall under the Oregon state land-use planning laws (and does not have a UGB). As required by Metro’s Charter, Metro met its deadline for completing the plan by adopting it on December 11, 1997.

The Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) is a blueprint for improving the region’s transportation system over the next 20 years from the year 2000. It incorporates the goals of the 2040 Growth Concept into its strategies for maintaining the flow of people and goods throughout the region. The RTP sets transportation policies for all forms of travel (ie cars, buses, light rail, walking, bicycling and movement of freight). Under the plan, future transportation projects will link urban form to transportation investments.

Transportation planning by all government partners in the region will be guided by the following strategies.

  • Balance transportation and land-use plans to protect liveability in the region
  • Increase transportation choices through safe, convenient alternatives to driving
  • Target transportation investments to rejuvenate main streets and historic downtowns
  • Sustain economic health by providing access to jobs and industry
  • Reduce dependence on cars by making jobs and shopping more convenient to where people live
  • Maintain access to natural areas around the region

While the 2040 Growth Concept and functional plans look good on paper, realizing these goals have been much more challenging and Metro has been criticized for ‘too little, too late’—moving slowly and budgeting most of its money towards responsibilities which are secondary to its top priorities of land-use planning. (Carson, Richard H. “Metro slow to take on growth management planning”, (The Oregonian, February 5, 1993) Online:;

This year, Metro is monitoring its progress by ‘revisiting’ the 2040 Plans, called the ‘New Look at Regional Choices’ (or simply the ‘New Look’) where it will be seeking various organizations and citizens for input on the Regional Framework Plan, and if it is progressing consistent with the Growth Concept, what areas are going well, what areas need more attention, or other reactions to the process so far.

Green Spaces and Habitat Within the UGB

Support and respect for this aspect of land-use planning has recently begun to gain recognition. The understanding of city as ecosystem represents a shift from the nature/urban dichotomy. It challenges the assumption that compact cities are about protecting nature outside the UGB, and that compact design does not allow for much green space in urban areas. It also highlights the importance of nature to quality of life, and giving citizens, especially children, the exposure and access to nature from which industrialized urban societies have become alienated. The work of certain key individuals including Urban Greenspaces Institute’s Mike Houck (see his comments in the Quotes section) have been instrumental in making wildlife habitat and green space a non-negotiable part of the urban landscape.

The Metropolitan Greenspaces Master Plan was adopted in 1992 and is part of the Regional Framework Plan (described above). It describes a vision for a regional system of parks, natural areas, green corridors, and trails for people and wildlife. Based on data and field studies (done by Metro or in partnership with it) on water quality, ecosystem integrity and species populations (see Lori Hennings’ comments in the quotes section), the Plan, among other things, identifies 57 urban natural areas and 34 trail and greenway corridors.

The Plan also includes:

  • Funding opportunities for local groups to do education, conservation, neighborhood cleanups or restoration work. The ‘local share’ of bond money is funding over 100 local park projects located in nearly every city, county and park district in the region.
  • Open spaces acquisition through bond measures (passed in 1995 and 2006) in 14 regional natural areas and 6 regional trails and green corridors As of February 5th, 2006, Metro has acquired over 8,146 acres of land for regional natural areas in 263 separate transactions. The acquired land is protecting some 74 miles of stream and riparian frontage.
  • Technical Support and Incentives. Metro offers assistance and incentives to conservation groups, developers, business and homeowners to protect watersheds and wildlife habitat.
  • Information. Maintaining up-to-date maps and a database of parks and green spaces in the region.
  • Education on natural gardening, recycling, landscaping, and composting.

The Nature in Neighborhoods Program is also an integral part of the green spaces program. It is aimed at working as a partner with localities to preserve or restore park or green space in their area. This might be achieved through restoration work, conservation, education, habitat-friendly development practices, monitoring and reporting on certain areas. The focus of the program is on riparian and watershed areas as well as connecting riparian corridors to upland regions, protecting at-risk or unique habitats, and restoring degraded sites.


Fregonese-Calthorpe Associates

Fregonese-Calthorpe (herein referred to as FC) is a professional land-use planning firm who’s primary staff worked at Metro during the development of the Region 2040 Plan. Formed jointly between visionary urban planner Peter Calthorpe and John Fregonese (formerly director of Portland Metro’s Growth Management Department), FC’s main focus is giving government and citizens a broad, conceptual understanding of their town, city or region, so they might make smarter, more informed choices about the direction in which they want to grow. FC has worked on regional plans in many cities and counties around the country including Austin, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland.

Understanding the dynamics of an urbanized metropolitan region like Portland eludes the conceptual capacity of the average person, given the scale, complexity and multiple connections between seemingly unrelated elements that make up urban systems. Using modeling, GIS technology and other software, and technical analysis, FC integrates massive amounts of information and presents it in a way that is visually understandable or otherwise accessible to the average person. This broad-based, higher-scale framework gives people the tools to ensure that urbanized areas (ranging from small towns to complex metropolitan regions) grow in a way that aligns with their values (for example civic identity, environmental protection, safety or other quality-of-life indicators). This is based on the understanding that if people don’t look at the larger scale, both spatial and temporal, and define a vision for their community, a ‘tragedy of the commons’ scenario will result where growth undermines the very assets that attract people to a region (or keep them there). In other words, the ‘path of least resistance’ in a car-dominated culture by definition leads to runaway sprawl. Therefore, communities who wish to avoid this must take decisive steps to anticipate this growth in order to preserve what they most value about their region.

FC doesn’t tell regions how they should grow. Instead, it works under the philosophy that its clients are the experts, and that its role as facilitator is to supplement that local knowledge on the ground with fresh ideas and experience it has gained while working with communities around the country. It also helps communities to appreciate the dilemmas and trade-offs involved with certain scenarios of growth and exposes suburbia’s myth of ‘having it all’ (ie people may value both the convenience of driving everywhere AND pristine scenery AND a painless commute, but this is cannot continue indefinitely). Using a toolkit of technical analysis, community visioning and other public involvement strategies (workshops, surveys, etc.) and comprehensive planning development, it can then engage elected officials, business leaders and civil society in productive discussions about future growth.

FC operates under several guiding principles:

  • linking land-use and transportation
  • ensuring diverse transportation options for people: walking, biking, driving and public transit
  • developing policies and systems to ensure good design
  • creating mixed-use communities (neighborhoods and small shops and services concentrated into one area)

John Fregonese, formerly with Metro, worked intensively on the 2040 Growth Concept both in Metro and with Fregonese-Calthorpe. (Peter Calthorpe was already a consultant during the planning stages of the 2040 Growth Concept. He was hired to do some small area planning as a way to test the regional concepts that were already being developed. For example, he did some small area urban design projects, but was not a part of the team involved in the large scale regional plan which was made up of staff).

Each planning process will have one or two advisory committees (anywhere from 20-80 people) who meet monthly generally in order to see the research or get a preview of the technical analysis). They may also guide the process and come up with benchmarks. There is also another committee which is brought together every three months or so. They may not be planners or people in the field, but they may be CEOs, housing advocates, or people who are experts in their individual specialty. They are generally well-respected and busy. This committee serves two purposes—the planning process may get more buy-in with influential people on board in addition to broadening the base of stakeholders. This group would come in for key meetings or workshops, and learn about the guiding principles of the work or hear the results of the technical analysis.

While FC’s approach varies from place to place, its approach roughly follows variations on the process of scenario planning. They begin first by getting public input in a ‘values assessment’ of the region. Through various methods such as direct mailing or pull-out surveys in the local newspaper, the public is asked various questions about what they value about their region (access to nature and open space, convenience, safety, community atmosphere, cultural heritage etc.) and their concerns (ie longer commutes, crime, or that rapid growth may undermine the qualities about their region they love and value).

Once people’s values are analyzed and represented in various ways, FC performs technical research and modelling to create forecasts for the area based on current trends of land consumption, transportation, employment, air quality, and other indicators called ‘benchmarks’. The technical analysis covers a whole set of options, then looks at the multiple relationships between forecasts of, for example, quantity and type of employment, housing, or open space. The technical research can provide very detailed information if necessary, for example analyze percentages of impervious cover (pavement) in an area based on the type of development which is located there. Most of the technical analysis is done in-house, though sometimes outside expertise, for example, from trained statisticians, is necessary.

Once the first round of technical analysis is completed, there is usually another round of public input, where FC can invite people to share their visions about the future by saying: "This is what we’ve heard from you, and based on our technical analysis, this is what will happen in the future, so come and work with us in a workshop to share your future vision.”

Public workshops are open to anyone, and take the form of a ‘game’ where participants are briefed, divided into working groups and challenged to ‘plan’ an area using maps and color-coded ‘chips’ or stickers representing different kinds and densities of development. (The chip game was not being done yet during the 2040 Growth Concept process in Portland. It was first employed in Salt Lake City and has evolved since).

Each group gets a base map to work with, and an atlas of more detailed maps for reference. Then may decide, for example, on certain areas that would be off-limits to development, and use marking pens to identify areas in their region or sub-region where redevelopment or intensification of existing development is possible or even desirable. Then, using chips representing the projected population), participants work together to locate future growth around the region. Each chip represents a certain number of people, and is scaled to represent the space this population would occupy if development occurred at roughly the same density as it is occurring along the newly developing areas. Budgeting allotments may also be included. Different types of economic activity (ie heavy industrial, light industrial, office space) will influence the amount of demand for land, jobs, and housing.

Groups are always organized and put at a table that has a map of an area which they are closest to or most familiar with. Therefore, a combination of walkable, higher-density icons would use less land than a combination of lower-density subdivision, office park and activity center icons. Other icons may include downtown, town, village, large-lot subdivision, residential subdivision, activity center, or industrial/office park. They can also ‘trade in chips’ if they want more of one thing and less of something else.

Because each region is unique and will have different concerns, emphasis will be put on certain aspects of the region over others (ie some regions may not have space to sprawl but may have concerns about the economy, and testing out scenarios based on economic growth in different sectors can enlighten people about how this would affect diverse elements such as housing, land demand, sales tax increases and transportation, for example.

Groups may also be asked to add the transportation infrastructure they feel would be necessary to accommodate the growth (ie, highway and transit infrastructure). Atlas maps they were given also delineate existing and proposed road and rail plans, as well as capacity of existing highways in the region.

Other aspects of planning important to the local area may be brought into the workshop. For example, participants may be presented with the current water supply and demand of select areas throughout the region.

Depending on the region (ie Texas or Southern California), bilingual English-Spanish simultaneous interpretation by headphones is provided. Workshops usually last about three hours, with time for registration, about 45 minutes for the presentation and two hours for groups at the tables.

There are several scales at which these workshops may be held, the regional, sub-regional or neighborhood level, where groups are looking not at density or kinds of developments but building-by-building what kinds of businesses or facilities go where. These local workshops might have trained local facilitators running the workshops. Workshops working at a higher scale may then be tested through ‘local implementation projects’ where the scale goes down to the neighborhood level. Alternatively, a sampling of workshops may start at the small scale first before ‘scaling up’. Workshops given at the sub-regional level will still have the downtown core included, because for most people going downtown will fit into their regular routines. This overlap gave people a clearer sense of not only their locality but how it fit into a larger context.

After the mapping process is finished, each table might present their work to the other groups in the sub-region, and one group from each sub-region presents their map to the entire workshop group. This allows people to see how different tables manage to accommodate growth and discuss some of the major issues encountered during the exercise. After the workshops, FC keeps the maps photographs them, and then lays them out with one person reading off the chip position while somebody else inputs it into the computer. This allows FC to statistically and graphically represent models, or composite maps, based on the participants’ input.

Other types of input are also sought at this stage. Surveys, for example, might ask for people’s preferences by looking at various photos depicting scenery, streets, or buildings. Through its experience working with busy citizens, FC tries to keep surveys simple and tight with short text and plenty of pictures to get the point across to people without making demands on their time.

While the original purpose of the workshops was to gather information about the public’s values and visions but as time passed it became clear that it also had educational value for citizens as well. (see Glen Bolen’s comments below). Ordinary people could not only solidify their visions of their town or city, but could also appreciate how local areas are part of the larger picture, and grapple with the challenges and potential trade-offs of creating a region in line with their values.

After this round of public input, FC planners begin building scenarios. Scenario planning means putting together a range of realistic futures based on forces (economic, geographic, etc) that both can and cannot be controlled. A continuum of three to five alternative development scenarios are created to illustrate a range of ways the area could develop and the varying consequences of different growth and development practices. The scenarios generally range from low-density, automobile-driven development with considerable sprawl at one extreme to more tightly controlled growth to create higher-density, walkable areas with more emphasis on public transportation at the other extreme, with more moderate scenarios falling somewhere between the two extremes. One of these scenarios is the ‘base case’ which is a model of the future based on current trends. In Portland, there was a base case and three scenarios or ‘concepts.’

The scenarios are then benchmarked and measured according to these benchmarks (ie the effects of certain actions or inactions on land consumption, housing needs and supply, air quality, sales taxes, loss of tree cover, underground aquifers). Scenario planning doesn’t reveal which scenario is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ but it shows what each scenario will retain or lose which are valuable to that particular region, or what the trade-offs are to making certain choices. For example, a scenario that might show the best protection for an aquifer might be the worst for transit, or vice-versa.

Building on scenario development, values study and public outreach activities, the second phase of the process concentrates on the development of the preferred regional vision. A second public workshop task here might challenge groups to lay out the projected population on the map under a chosen scenario. In the case of Portland, citizens chose instead to draw from various features from different scenarios to create a new scenario which would become the 2040 Growth Concept. (see the section on Metro and the 2040 Growth Concept). Each table is allowed to choose one of a given number of three or four choices of scenarios and work from that (otherwise it would be too difficult for groups to come up with a plan on their own).

After each group decides on a combination of development icons, they are asked to draw the transportation infrastructure (roads and transit) needed to meet the demands of their chosen development pattern. They could modify the development icons based on new info learned while putting down transportation infrastructure. As with previous workshops, each group presents their map to the rest of the group.

This workshop is intended to engage the public in developing more concrete details for realizing their preferred version of regional development, including regional concept maps and a toolbox of strategies for achieving regional goals and growth objectives. The outcome may involve taking the pieces of the scenarios that were best-liked, and moving them forward with strategies (ie policy shifts, piece of infrastructure) that perform the best. These implementation steps are as concrete as possible and may include a detailed zoning or comprehensive plan map, environmental policies, transportation improvement plans. Some strategies will perform the best across any scenario, for example protecting a wetland or watershed which is the source of municipal drinking water.

One challenge for FC is making sure participants do not water down the recommendations at the end to the point where they become ineffective. It tries to come up with a vision which is the embodiment of what was learned from the scenario analysis (vision maps). Key to the FC toolbox is creating a variety of transportation options. In other words, increasing walkability does not necessarily mean halting or removing infrastructure for automobiles, but it does mean ensuring that other transportation options (public transport, walking, cycling) exist as well.

Each map could be used by community organizations to make their own policy recommendations. This round of results of community input are then posted through the same outreach channels it used in the previous rounds.

Throughout FC’s involvement with a region, it makes sure to have the public there at key points. It refers to its strategies of getting public involvement as ‘innovative’. This means all its information and surveys are accessible. It tries to avoid making demands on already busy people’s capacity to absorb new information. Surveys are full of photos, clearly understandable and limited in text length. Other strategies include targeting lower-income or other underrepresented sectors of society by, for example, giving quick surveys outside supermarkets as shoppers are leaving.

The firm is extremely IT-savvy and heavily relies on cutting-edge computer software in modeling, mapping and other graphics, statistics, and GIS to analyze large volumes of data, create composite images, and find detailed information on a variety of topics of interest. FC’s role in shaping Portland has been fundamental to the 2040 Growth Concept and institutionalizing the process of regional planning, but much of Portland’s direction shift predates its involvement and goes back to the early 1970s during the McCall and Goldschmidt years.

Portland City Government’s Office of Sustainable Development (OSD)

The Office of Sustainable development is run through the city of Portland and has a broad portfolio of activities and achievements. Its main areas of focus are:

  • Energy conservation and development of renewable energy sources.
  • Solid waste reduction and recycling,
  • Sustainable technologies and practices,
  • Green building
  • Food policy, such as urban gardens, sustainable agriculture, and access to fresh food.

The OSD works in partnership with community organizations, public agencies, businesses and citizens on various initiatives. Much of its work involves outreach, education, sharing valuable information on sustainable practices, and providing one-on-one technical support to help people adopt them.

OSD’s key achievements have been the support and development of the green building movement, and CO2 emissions reduction, waste reduction, energy, and recycling.

While green building may not be directly related to land-use planning, it is a potentially important component at larger scales in the development and layout of neighborhoods and design of infrastructure for water, sanitation and energy. Green building’s success in Portland (and over the Pacific Northwest) shows that Portland is at the cutting-edge of various sustainability issues that tie into its other initiatives like the carbon emissions reductions. The Portland region has more LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings existing or in the pipeline than other city in the United States.

OSD also performs the badly-needed service of compiling information in order to link needs with resources. It compiles information for builders about where to get salvaged materials, and has created a Northwest Green Directory so people can register their products such as low-VOC paint or sustainably harvested wood.

The City of Portland became the first US city to formally adopt a strategy to reduce CO2 emissions, and currently emissions levels are less than a percent above 1990 levels (the benchmark for signatories of the Kyoto Protocol). In 2001, Multomah County created a Local Action Plan for Global Warming, where the target is 10% below 1990 levels by 2010. There are several programs for consumers, such as the option to ‘buy’ green power from their utility.

The Office for Sustainable Development is located in the Ecotrust Building, a reclaimed historic warehouse and showcase of sustainable technology and practices in the Pearl District. It is a reclaimed old warehouse building which has been upgraded using has a LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold rating for heritage buildings. It houses several grassroots organizations, sustainable businesses, and open meeting spaces. There are many features of the building (partitions, tables) which are reclaimed, and other elements such as recycled paints and materials salvaged from the building for pillars and workstations.

For more information about OSD, refer to the comments by Mike Armstrong, Susan Anderson, and Mike O’Brien in the Quotes section, and to their website at

Portland City’s Neighborhood Associations (NA’s)

Portland City’s Neighborhood Associations (NA’s) are often cited as an example of Portland’s strong tradition of participatory democracy.

NA’s emerged in the 1950s and 1960s as loose coalitions which formed usually to in response to some change affecting the neighborhoods in question. For example, in Lair Hill, student renters and Jewish and Italian families opposed the South Auditorium urban renewal project that would have displaced them. In 1966, Northeast Portland applied to participate in the Model Cities program and a citizen’s planning board was appointed to the project. Meanwhile, in Northwest Portland, proposals to expand the Good Samaritan Hospital spurred neighborhoods to organize and became negotiators for plans that saved older, more established residential neighborhoods. In 1971, Southeast Portland neighborhoods were a key part of the movement that eventually stymied plans to build the Mount Hood Freeway.

There were several reasons for the increased involvement among neighborhoods:

  • Older neighborhoods were reacting to pressure by development interests.
  • A change in political climate in the 1970s meant new city leaders were not tied to old planning practices favored by their old-school, technocratic predecessors
  • There were increased requirements for citizen participation in federal/state programs, such as, among other things, Senate Bill 100

In 1972, then-Mayor Terry Schrunk convened the District Planning Organizational Task Force to explore the idea of a city mechanism for neighborhood and district citizen participation (in other words, to formalize and legitimize neighborhood involvement in the political process). The task force recommended three principles: a two-tiered structure of both Neighborhood Planning Organizations (NPOS) and DPOs (district planning organizations) be established. Both tiers were to be involved in planning for both physical and social issues, and this structure should have some real authority in City Council.

In 1973, voters elected Neil Goldschmidt, who was a strong advocate for increasing the power of neighborhood associations. He proposed a Bureau of Neighborhood Organizations with a budget of 104,000 dollars, and this proposal became an ordinance. The first draft of the ordinance proposed a system of both NPOs and DPOs when issues emerged concerning more than one neighborhood’s jurisdiction. A second draft ordinance addressed those concerns by the ONA (Office of NAs), created to coordinate among the NAs, which were volunteer-run.

In 1974, the city passed a plan to try out district field offices in three areas of the city where federal resources for this purpose were not available. The ordinance was revised again in 1975 to replace the process of the city’s recognition of NAs with the requirement that they meet minimum standards, ie banning discrimination, written grievance/dissent procedures, and NA by-laws be on file with ONA, and that both the ONA and District Office was to support/enhance the NAs’ work.

Under the plan, city agencies were responsible for notifying neighborhood associations 30 days before a decision affecting a NA, including NAs in all planning efforts affecting neighborhood livability, and making sure the plans recommended by NAs would have a public hearing, and any changes had to be sent to the NA. The NA in turn was responsible for notifying city agencies about planning efforts, sharing info and cooperating with city agencies.

In the NA system’s early years, a major achievement was getting neighborhoods involved with the city’s budget process. This meant the bureaus were asked to be accountable if neighborhood input didn’t appear in the bureau’s budget. By 1979, there were 60 active NAs in Portland. There were neighborhood mediation programs offered through the ONA and focused on disputes between neighbors, ie, tenants and landlords (and later, other issues such as crime prevention and safety).

Since these early years, the system has undergone changes and some difficulties. The recession brought public expenditures under increasing scrutiny. By 1984, there were increasing conflicts between the ONA and district coalitions and between districts. The last 13 years has seen a reorganization and re-evaluation of the purpose and future direction of the NA program.

Today there are 95 NAs in Portland city, 90 of which are served by 7 district offices of varying operational structures. They vary widely in terms of number of meetings/projects, issues, communication efforts and attendance. While there are some problems and limitations of the NA system (see Teresa Huntsinger’s comments for more on this), recommendations on how to address these have been submitted by various grassroots organizations. Their involvement shows that there is a strong interest in sustaining and improving the NA program.

1000 Friends of Oregon

This grassroots organization is a veteran advocate of Oregon’s pioneering land-use policies, and has been instrumental not only in forcing various levels of government to adhere to Senate Bills 100 and 101, but also in researching and proposing alternatives to the planned projects they believed would undermine gains made by the State.

1000 Friends was founded by the pioneering Governor Tom McCall in 1975, and today has 5,000 members and a staff of 13 people at Portland office and four regional offices. Its main roles are:

  1. Advocacy: This includes defending and improving state’s land-use laws before Oregon’s legislature or other state agencies, as well as developing new policies to help people manage growth at all levels of government. As well, it sometimes resorts to litigation to establish legal precedents or enforce existing laws.
  2. Education: It holds an annual Citizen’s Conference on Land Use, offers technical and legal skills training programs on a variety of topics around the state, it participates in public forums and makes speeches on topics of current concern statewide, and it publishes a newsletter, Landmark, as well as other educational materials.
  3. Research: This involves analyzing Oregon’s success in protecting farm and forest lands while securing enough land for the broad variety of needed housing types, developing a land use alternative to a proposed bypass highway (see LUTRAQ description below), and digitized mapping of rural development patterns. 1000 Friends was also a founding member of Coalition for a Livable Future (see description of CLF).

One of 1000 Friends’ important achievements was the spearheading of:

The LUTRAQ alternative (or Making the Land Use, Transportation, Air Quality Connection)

This major project began as a response to a proposed new suburban freeway in the rapidly growing Washington County (one of the incorporated counties in the metropolitan area). It was assumed that this freeway, known as the “Western Bypass”, was already in the works and nothing could be done to stop it. The government of Washington County was united in its support for the project, and there were no other feasible alternatives to the highway being articulated.

LUTRAQ grew out of the understanding among the land-use/environment community that Washington’s congestion problems were not due to lack of roads but because of more fundamental land-use patterns. Development that isolated people from places they needed to go meant their transportation choices were solely limited to the automobile, which they depended on for virtually every function in their lives.

1000 Friends set up LUTRAQ as an initiative to research and create an alternative land-use pattern which would allow for a range of transportation options (public transport, walking, and biking in addition to cars). Assistance was given by various private and public agencies, several advisory committees, and the citizen’s group STOP (Sensible Transportation Options for People). LUTRAQ became an alternative land-use pattern for Washington County that emphasized moderate density, and pedestrian-centered neighborhoods which were located along a regional transit network.

LUTRAQ also showed that, (at market-supported densities), this alternative plan could support 75% of the employment and 65% of households expected to move into the area until 2010. Under the status quo, only 16% of that development would be located along the transit network. If the alternative plan was also combined with a ‘transportation demand management package’ of parking pricing and transit subsidies, congestion in the county would decrease by 10 % points more than the construction of the Bypass. (The decrease in delay would be 53.2% as compared with 43% decrease if the Bypass was built).

Furthermore, the LUTRAQ option would reduce congestion by reducing the demand side (ie. reduction in the need to drive because a shift in design would make other transportation choices more attractive) instead of increasing the supply side (road capacity) as the Bypass would. If the Bypass was built, the average daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) would increase over the no-build option by nearly a million (or 5.6%). But with LUTRAQ, the VMT would decrease by 3.2%. The option also showed that 33% of the work trips generated by “Transit Oriented Developments” (TODs) would either be on transit, by foot or bicycle.

When this alternative was first floated in the community, there was resistance among freeway supporters, mainly because it meant challenging deeply entrenched assumptions about what ‘growth’ looked like. However, the statistics provided important, solid numbers to demonstrate that congestion could be more effectively addressed in ways which would cost less economically, socially or environmentally. It also helped the argument against the freeway to be taken seriously instead of being dismissed as NIMBYism or leftist ideology which had no basis in practical reality. Meanwhile, as time passed, the climate became more receptive to LUTRAQ’s vision. While the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) was not willing to develop an alternative land use plan, it was willing to consider one that 1000 Friends developed. Work on LUTRAQ began, and became one of five alternatives that ODOT studied in a Major Investment Study on the Bypass. So far this remains the only land-use alternative included in an environmental document.

Meanwhile, during this time when ODOT was studying the Bypass, Metro was studying land use and transportation issues for the entire region for its work on the 2040 Regional Growth Concept (see below). Similar to LUTRAQ it focused future growth on transportation corridors and clustered into nodal centers served by transit. There are many similarities between 2040 and LUTRAQ. In a 1995 study, 91% of the acres identified in the LUTRAQ alternative have LUTRAQ designations comparable to those in the Growth Concept.

In the meantime, there growing political opposition to the Bypass, and it became the major campaign issue for candidates running for elections from the local to the state levels, with candidates in 1992 competing to show who was more strongly opposed to it (and even one who had been one of the biggest Bypass supporters earlier).

The nail in the coffin came in the spring of 1995 when ODOT released its MIS report which showed that the LUTRAQ alternative was equal or superior to the Bypass by every measurement. This was followed in September of 1995 with ODOT’s official recommendation from the study which suggested various road improvements but not the Bypass.

The value of LUTRAQ was not only in helping to stop the Bypass but in influencing state and regional players in metropolitan Portland, namely in most of its material being used into the 2040 Growth Concepts and Regional Framework Plans. Mary Kyle McKurdy of 1000 Friends of Oregon states that “When METRO adopted the Regional Framework Plan….it incorporated something like 90% of what was in LUTRAQ….”

LUTRAQ also influenced the Oregon’s Transportation Planning Rule which requires local governments to revamp their land use plans to allow TODs along transit lines, and to require pedestrian-accessible site designs for new commercial buildings. As well, the $ 1 million station area planning process that Tri-Met (the region’s transit agency) is facilitating has resulted in the adoption of TOD overlay districts by all jurisdictions in the Bypass study area. Lastly, the state Department of Environmental Quality has promoting Employee Commute Options (ECO) regulations that require large employers to adopt plans designed to reduce single-person commutes. (For more on 1000 Friends of Oregon or LUTRAQ, see Mary Kyle McKurdy’s comments below or check the 1000 Friends of Oregon website at

Coalition for a Liveable Future (CLF)

This association of over 50 grassroots organizations was founded in 1994, with 1000 Friends as one of the founding members. Its creation followed the visit to a conference put together by Robert Liberty (formerly with 1000 Friends of Oregon, and now a Metro Councilor), Portland by a man named Myron Orfield, a Minnesota state legislator and expert on urban revitalization. CLF’s formation was significant because for the first time it brought together the land-use/environmental faction with the inner-city/social justice faction. This revealed common ground between the two and blew apart the myth that there were fundamental conflicts of interest between them, ie. Developers could attempt to undermine land-use or preservation laws in the name of low-income housing development. Up until then, activists from various groups had been easily played off against each other by various opponents.

Working together allowed these groups to realize that social problems feed environmental problems and vice versa. For example, when low-to-moderate-income people can’t afford to live in the place where they work (ie in upscale areas where jobs are usually to be had), they are forced into automobile dependence in order to work if the area is not walkable or served by public transit.

Moreover, regional approaches are essential to any problems of homelessness, crime, and failing schools because ‘solving’ the problem in one area may mean simply pushing it into another area, which means one area is externalizing its costs onto another. Meanwhile one wealthy area may capture a disproportionate share of economic growth, which translates into middle-class flight from poorer neighborhoods, therefore further concentrating the poverty in inner cities.

In other words, CLF takes a holistic approach to various issues by examining problems regionally, and by transcending the specific issues each group is working on individually. In doing so it reveals fundamental links between seemingly unrelated issues, thereby enriching the perspectives of each member organization. By doing this, CLF’s formation represents an evolutionary shift for the grassroots in Portland towards becoming broader in scope, more informed, and better able to comprehend complex urban issues.

Today, CLF has grown from six organizations at the beginning, to over sixty community organizations working on issues ranging from affordable housing, environment and green spaces, employment and tenants rights organizations. Its projects and achievements include:

  • Affordable Housing Now! Intended to address Portland’s affordable housing shortage, the project’s main goal is to find a new, stable source of funding for affordable housing for low-income families and individuals and otherwise disadvantaged groups such as seniors, minorities and disabled residents. The project works under the assumption Portland can only benefit in the long run by investing in affordable housing and thereby strengthening communities. It does so by prioritizing areas/populations of greatest need, organizing campaigns and providing educational materials, and by proposing various creative sources of funding, for example, through various bond measures, local taxes, real estate transfer fees, recapture taxes connected with the UGB expansion, and other local sources.
  • Regional Equity Atlas: This ambitious project is intended to analyze the effects of growth on various communities in the region by looking at the relationships between demographics, incomes, and various communities’ access to jobs, basic services and amenities, and natural areas. This will put numbers to the concern that disadvantaged groups have reduced accessibility than more privileged groups (the former cannot generally afford to live near where they work and must commute long distances, and the resulting implications of needing to rely on cars instead of being able to walk or ride transit). It also addresses the phenomenon of gentrification and the overemphasis by the region on places over people. (ie when investment goes into an area, rising housing costs ends up displacing people from place to place rather than maintaining a stable mix of incomes in each communities) ‘Equity’ in this sense indicates that the benefits of growth should be equally shared throughout the region, and that quality of life should be an equal right for all residents. It also puts adds people into the land-use planning process in a way that CLF believes has not been done adequately to date. Once completed, the Equity Atlas can be shared with policy makers, planners, businesses, and the public, and used to influence policy and redirecting resources to make regional development more equitable.
  • Protecting Nature in Neighborhoods: This is a project to protect 18,000 acres of undeveloped floodplains, stream corridors and headwater streams with a region-wide Fish and Wildlife Habitat Protection Program.
  • Designing Urban Habitats for Wildlife and People: This project brings together experts in urban design and environmental protection to demonstrate how it is possible to ‘have it all’ and that vibrant neighborhoods can (and should) exist together with protected wildlife habitats.

For more about CLF, see Program Director Teresa Huntsinger’s comments in the Quotes section, (or see website at

Other Organizations

Many committed organizations, community associations, agencies and institutes have, and are, playing important roles in Portland, including the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), City Repair, STOP (Sensible Transportation Options for People), Shift and others.


Important Elements that make this case distinct

Many of the initiatives in this document, such as Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods, green spaces acquisition, or ‘fair share’ housing policy, are in no way unique to Portland. Such types of citizen-based activities are common throughout the country. Comparing Portland’s success rate with these is beyond the scope of this document.

The following elements are most unique to Portland:

  • The absence (or weakness) of ‘machine politics’. Anecdotally we heard that the entrenched political partisanship, special groupism, and powerful lobbying do not exist on the same level in Oregon as they do elsewhere (partly because the Pacific Northwest is a historically ‘young’ area)
  • The confluence of two (and other) visionary leaders whose policies complemented each other at different levels of scale: Goldschmidt at the municipal level and McCall at the state level (though it has been pointed out that this leadership alone was not enough and in fact people were ready for this kind of leadership and this leadership was simply ‘riding the wave’ of popular support for their vision. See Rex Burkholder’s quotes below)
  • Oregon’s strong tradition of participatory democracy and citizen input from the level of Neighborhood Associations (see section on Neighborhood Associations) all the way up to the state (related to # 1). As Bruce Adams says in Portland's tradition of informed citizen participation has been the key to its success. Few states or regions rival Oregon and Portland in the depth and breadth of citizen involvement in decision making. The City Club, at the local level, and 1,000 Friends of Oregon, at the state level, have provided strong leadership for Oregon's progressive policies. Carl Abbott of Portland State University says the primary leadership role in Portland has come from the citizens: "Politics and public decisions in the Portland area are remarkably open to everyday citizens. In Portland, it is not just the top ten business leaders who count. Policy is shaped by the tens of thousands of citizen activists who serve on government advisory committees, direct nonprofit organizations, and work with neighborhood associations." Mike Burton, the elected Executive Officer of Metro, agrees, citing battles against highways, for the beach and bottle laws, and efforts to clean up the Willamette River. "The movements come from the citizens." According to Burton, "It is ‘small d' democratic and ‘small r' republican. And it goes back to our populist background, back to initiative and referendum." (Adams, Bruce. From Boundary Crossers: Case Studies of How Ten of America's Metropolitan Regions Work (Academy of Leadership, 1998) Online:
  • The high level of public support for land-use policies that does currently not exist to the same degree as elsewhere. This raises the question as to whether the level of progress made here could be as easily duplicated in other American cities.
  • The capacity for regional cooperation. For any metropolitan region, whatever barriers or disincentives exist to regional cooperation—and there are many--must be removed if it wishes to plan for growth. This is not easy, because there are many ways in which political balkanization of a region can occur, which may have roots at not only at the municipal level but at the state or even federal levels. As Lang and Hornburg write, “The federal policies that shape regions lie buried in legislation that on the surface seems unrelated to urban form. Transportation bills, tax policy, welfare reform, and environmental regulation all play a role in determining where and how regions will grow and decline. While much of this legislation is directed to the states, little attention is paid to how they may use these funds to favor some parts of the region over others. Moreover, federal policy is seldom designed to create incentives for the state governments to encourage regional thinking. States on their own therefore effectively set the decision-making structure that can enhance or kill the chances for true regional governance in how they charter local governments. In the case of Oregon, where the state had the political will to force localities to cooperate on land-use issues, one can see the central roles that states must play in fostering regional governments”. (Robert E. Lang and Steven P. Hornburg. “Planning Portland Style: Pitfalls and Possibilities”. Online: Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. A key element of aligning jurisdictional interests with shared regional interests was the creation of Metro, described next:
  • The existence of a regionally elected government, Metro, which does not exist elsewhere in the country to date. This government, with its specific mandate to address growth, and to coordinate between the various jurisdictions within the UGB, gives it an edge over other metropolitan regions who do not have the institutional ability not only to make sense of how the parts fit into a greater whole, but also to anticipate and plan for growth in the whole region.
  • The importance of being able to anticipate growth and plan for it before the effects of growth had really become ‘locked in’. As Lang and Hornburg write, “Portland’s timing also proved crucial to its success. The region put its plan in place before experiencing rapid growth. Portland was therefore in the unique position of being able to control regional structure as it evolved. By contrast, many other boomtowns of the West, such as Phoenix and Denver, look like clones of Los Angeles.” (Robert E. Lang and Steven P. Hornburg. “Planning Portland Style: Pitfalls and Possibilities”. Online: Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.)
  • The recession which hit this area when others were growing, gave people the opportunity to imagine other economic alternatives than ‘development’.
  • There is a relative homogeneity of the region compared to other urbanized areas (in terms of the gap between the city and suburbs, economically, racially and ethnically). This allowed for a level of community cohesion necessary to support various land-use policies and to accomplish things without getting bogged down in the messier task of balancing the multiple interests and concerns that a more diverse population would face).
  • “Positive feedback” in the form of an area containing a vibrant activist community would then attract more activists to the area.
  • The importance of ‘creative partnership building’ and the role of Metro (or other centralized agencies) as a ‘broker’ in linking needs and resources among various groups. This reduces the demand for, and dependence on resources from a central source (human, financial, organizational capacity) (see Lori Hennings’ quotes).
  • The importance of agriculture and forestry, and their proximity to the urban area. Forestry and agriculture were economic interests that urbanization put into jeopardy. Conflicts at the rural-urban edges were very visible to both rural and urban voters, and despite very different motivations, the rural and urban legislatures had a common desire to control or restrict sprawl. Rural legislatures, usually conservative, were strongly motivated to protect the economic interests of forestry and agriculture. Meanwhile, the constituents of urban legislatures, who were more progressive, cared deeply about having easy access to the region’s natural beauty. The result was that the issue was bi-partisan in that both Republicans and Democrats, rural and urban voters, supported the land-use program in the 1970s. (The challenge today is how to sustain the broad political support in an increasingly polarized political climate, and given the declining economic importance of forestry and agriculture in the region).
  • There was a boom in the 1960s which fed such a decline in urban conditions in Portland in the 1970s that people were feeling motivated to take action in some way. As current Metro Council President David Bragdon writes: “In the 1970s, it was very obvious to people in their everyday lives what those [unsolved urban problems] were. People saw downtown Portland dying. They saw the air quality getting worse—one day out of three during the summer Mount Hood was obscured because of smog. And they saw suburban encroachment on nearby rural land. They didn’t like it, so there was a sense of crisis of people saying they had to act.” (Bragdon, David. Case Study in Regional Planning: Portland’s Metro Council”. San Francisco Planning and Urban Research newsletter, 2003)
  • When Metro was formed in 1979, cities and counties had less local control than cities in other states already do because they were already used to having the state oversight of their land-use planning, so they might have been more willing to give Metro authority than cities in other states would have.

Milestones, Successes and Spin-Offs

One way to look at the Portland’s success in reducing land consumption is to compare population growth with area of land consumed with other comparable American cities. Portland is expecting to grow to 2.5 million people by the year 2040 while holding its geographic area to under 400 square miles. Denver, by contrast, has a population of 2 million people and is already at 500 square miles. (Metropolitan Atlanta is even more extreme, with nearly 2.5 million people sprawled across a whopping 1,800 square miles). Denver, which had similar growth rates to Portland, increased by 180 square miles from 1960 to 1997, by contrast Portland increased by 5 square miles.

A more stark comparison is that between Portland and metropolitan Atlanta, one of the most sprawling regions in the country. The density of metropolitan Portland was 3,412 people per square mile and metropolitan Atlanta had 3,122 people per square mile. In 1990, metropolitan Portland (on the Oregon side) rose to 3,734 people per square mile while Atlanta’s had dropped to 1,898 per square mile. In 1994, the Oregon side of metropolitan Portland rose to 3,885 people per square mile. In other words, if metropolitan Atlanta had been able to grow as efficiently as Portland, the state of Georgia would have been able to save 93,000 acres of rural land.

A few other key examples:

  • The share of regional employment in the downtown area has remained at about 20% of the regional total, compared to 10-15% for many metropolitan areas of comparable size, even in the face of rapid growth of the entire region.
  • Between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s, downtown employment nearly doubled from 56,000 to 109,500 (for which the 1972 Downtown Plan was credited).
  • Between 1990 and 1995, transit usage increased 4.4 % in the Portland region; meanwhile during the same period, transit usage in the 20 cities closest to Portland in size decreased by an average of 9.1%.
  • From 1990 to 1996, transit ridership in the Portland metropolitan area grew 20% faster than growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), 41% than growth in service and nearly 150% faster than the growth in population.
  • In the decade before the UGB was established, new population was added at the density of 2,448 people per square mile, but in the decade after it was established, it was added at the density of 3,744 per square mile. This means an increase in density of 53 %.
  • Before Senate Bill 100, Oregon had been losing 30,000 acres of farmland each year, now it loses about 2,000 acres (by contrast, Colorado loses 50,000 acres per year).
  • Since adoption of the 235,000 acre UGB, Portland has urbanized 39,000 acres even while its population rose by a third.

Major Challenges

Population Growth. The single greatest threat to Portland’s liveability is its projected growth over the coming decades. Ironically, one of the reasons it is expected to grow is precisely because its reputation has attracted people from the state and elsewhere who, are more motivated to move there rather than the costly, slow process of creating similar initiatives in their own city. Yet this growth has serious implications for the region’s long-term livability.

Gentrification. The corollary to the urban ‘donut’ (of ever-increasing development at the outermost edges corresponding with an ever-widening center of decay in the ‘hole’) is Portland city’s reinvestment in inner donut rings. While reviving the inner city neighborhoods takes pressure of the outer edges and uses ‘infill’, (already developed and underused urban land), it also tends to drive up rents and prices, which in turn attracts more affluent newcomers, further driving rents and prices up. While the ‘new’ neighborhoods such as the Pearl District or Mississippi Avenue may add beauty, new life and economic opportunities, fill tax coffers which can be invested into infrastructure, and push crime rates down, these higher rents also have the effect of displacing low-income people from their homes. Therefore gentrification, if a certain amount of housing is not rent-controlled or reserved for lower-income residents, can simply have the effect of moving the poor around from one area to another. (see Teresa Huntsinger’s comments below).

Housing Costs. Housing costs is a controversial issue. UGBs are often blamed for causing housing prices toimmediately rise following their creation, which leads to crisis in affordable housing. However, while Portland’s land-use planning and UGBs have been blamed for the rapidly rising housing prices in Portland, there are various perspectives on the issue. Some studies dismiss this as a myth, and argue that a combination of population growth and conventional market forces such as speculation have inflated housing costs. While Portland’s housing prices in the 1990s rose faster than the national average, they were no higher than other American cities growing at comparable rates.

Moreover, it is also pointed out that increased housing density in Portland is offsetting the reduction in the supply of housing as a result of the UGBs (which highlights the importance of having UGBs as part of a larger land-use planning framework). For example, in 1981, the average new lot size was 13,000 square feet while today the average lot size is about 6,000 square feet. Mike O’Brien of the Office for Sustainable Development (OSD) also says consumer preferences for ever-larger houses are also to blame (see his comments in Quotes section).

1000 Friends of Oregon also points out that the issue isn’t simply the cost of housing itself but housing costs relative to wages. In Portland, while housing prices have risen comparable to other cities in the Pacific Northwest, wages in Portland are lower than these other cities.

Still, affordable housing—or lack of it—remains an important issue in Portland and ties into other equity issues created by, for example, gentrification, which has fed demographic shifts as gentrifying areas replace low-income people with affluent professionals.

At the State level, Senate Bill 100 led to the creation of Goal 10, which was a measure to ensure a supply of affordable housing, by ensuring sufficient numbers of housing units at price ranges and rent levels corresponding with the income level of Oregon’s households. It did this through reducing the minimum lot size. It also eliminated the so-called ‘snob zoning’ which forbids the apartment buildings or multifamily housing. By requiring cities and counties to zone adequate amounts of land for multifamily housing, this amount of land for this purpose nearly tripled in Portland.

However, rises in housing prices are outpacing real incomes and eclipsing whatever gains the state has made in this area. Until the formation of CLF, affordable housing advocacy was not a fundamental part of the land-use planning ideology. In fact, affordable housing advocates were often pitted against the land-use planning community by more powerful opponents to land-use planning who claimed that UGBs were creating an affordable housing crisis.

The formation of CLF brought together the affordable housing movement with land-use planning for the first time, and CLF (and others) have been able to influence policy on the issue. Metro, for example, has created a Regional Affordable Housing Strategy, and has addresses affordable housing in its Regional Framework Plan for 2040. Fundamental to the plans is the concept of ‘fair share housing’; an assessment of the available housing stock measured against the incomes and needs of the community, and then reserving a portion of affordable housing in every city and county based on current and future projections.

Insufficient public input by low income/minorities. Because these less powerful sectors of society stand to be most impacted hit by public policies, their input is perhaps even important in order to ensure an informed decision-making processes. However, grassroots organizations report that decision-making processes tend to be dominated by more educated, affluent Caucasians, and that getting the same level of participation from low-income/minorities is difficult. They cite low levels of trust by these members of society for the government or non-profit organizations, lack of both education and time (ie single mothers working full-time and taking care of families) as reasons for this low level of input. Efforts are being made to encourage more participation by these marginalized sectors (see sections on Fregonese-Calthorpe and Coalition for a Livable Future).

Scale, Complexity, and Slow Results. Managing the multiple, overlapping, and often competing forces at work in an urban region is perhaps the greatest challenge of the ambitious experiment of planning and shaping Portland’s growth in such a radical way. Moreover, there is a distinct ‘time lag’ associated with this kind of work where some of the effects of Senate Bill 100 or the Downtown plan are only becoming visible now (and many actors may not even live to see their visions realized). This also applies for the work currently being done on the 2040 Growth Concept. While individuals and groups have had ‘short feedback loops’ and seen results quickly in some aspect of the whole, or a localized successes, the larger picture demands a level of patience that most of our more local cases have not required.

Backlash. There is a small, but powerful group of opponents to land-use and transportation planning in the state of Oregon which also feed into a larger countrywide network of critics of anything that comes under the terms ‘smart growth’, or ‘new urbanism’. These opponents of land-use laws include the National Association of Home Builders, the American Dream Coalition, Demographia, Oregonians in Action (an association of property owners). Most of these special-interest organizations generally share a strong support for individual property rights and an equally strong dislike of ‘big’ government in favor of free markets and privatization. Since Senate Bill 100 was enacted, there have been three attempts by various opponents to abolish the LCDC in state-wide votes, but each time voters supported the land-use laws. An example of this backlash comes in the form of:

Measures 7 and 37. In addition to other attempts to overturn the state land-use planning laws, the property-rights extremists spearheaded the creation of two ballot measures, 7 and 37, which attempt to redress rural property owners whose land has not appreciated in line with out-of-control speculative markets that characterize most suburban-rural edges. Both measures give property owners the channels to make claims to either be compensated for the lost estimated appreciation value, or else be granted a waiver that removes restrictions on what a property owner can do with his or her land. Therefore property owners are entitled to compensation or the ability to use the land in a way that they would have been able to at the time when the land was acquired (ie before the land-use laws were in place). This could mean anything from subdividing it or developing it for commercial or industrial purposes, and in effect undermines the assets the state-land use planning laws were intended to protect. Furthermore, the governing body would not be required to hear testimony or hold a public hearing, which would prevent citizens from knowing about the claim or being able to oppose a claim that would have negative consequences for them.

Measure 7 was passed in 2000 but was overturned in 2002 due to constraints in requirements for constitutional amendments. In response to this, Measure 37 was drafted to impose requirements similar to Measure 7 but this time not as a constitutional amendment but as a statute. It states that property owners can write to a local or state government concerning the objectionable regulation, and receive either money or a waiver of the regulation within 180 days. If the government does not grant either within this time period, a civil right of action is granted to the claimant, who is entitled to attorney fees.

Breaking news on Measure 37: A Marion County circuit judge, Mary Mertens James, ruled Measure 37 unconstitutional in October of 2005, stating that it took power away from the legislatures, gave long-term landowners an unfair advantage, and shut others out of the process. Amidst the resulting confusion of pending claims and uncertainty over the law’s future, the Measure was rushed to the Oregon Supreme Court, which overturned the lower courts decision on February 21, 2006. This will jumpstart the process of the some 2,500 claim applications waiting to be reviewed. Though there have been no appeals to the decision, 1000 Friends of Oregon will decide in the next few weeks whether to pursue a November ballot measure that will attempt to modify Measure 37 in various ways, including measures to ensure that development doesn’t harm neighbors.

It may seem surprising that Oregon voters, who ostensibly strongly support their state land-use laws, would have voted in support of Measure 37. But many of the people we interviewed pointed out that the propaganda put out by the property-rights crowd was misleading and played on people’s desire for fairness, and who may have lacked full understanding the implications of the law. Paradoxically, the law itself contradicts its stated intention to be fair to property owners, since a claimant may be granted the right to do something to his or her land which could cause neighboring property values to drop. Moreover, because of the UGB, a lot of productive farmland on the edge of cities is still viable where it might not be otherwise, when rising tax assessments in non-growth-controlled areas drive farmers off land into the waiting arms of land-speculating developers.

The Transportation Mix

Portland’s land-use and transportation planning has not so much sought to eliminate choices for drivers but to reduce dependence on automobiles by improving the number of overall transportation choices available to people. The most important parts of Portland’s transportation strategy are cycling, and public transportation.

Cycling. “Utility cycling” (the reliance on bicycling for transportation and not just recreation) is much more common in Europe and parts of Asia than North America. There are several active grassroots bicycle advocates in Portland who have had some significant successes in providing facilities and resources for utility cyclists. An important milestone in Portland’s cycling infrastructure was the expansion of sidewalks on the Hawthorne Bridge in 1997, which helped bicycle commuters cross the Willamette River. Other developments have included blue-painted bike lanes, the East Bank Esplanade, and the Sunset Highway Bike Path.

Portland currently holds a gold rating from the League of American cyclists, a rating system that evaluates a city’s bicycling capacity (platinum is the highest rating). It has a politically active, well-mobilized group of citizens and cyclists who work closely with local governments to support improvements to bicycling. One of the best-known bicycle advocates in Portland is the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) who have been successful in helping to convince Tri-Met to allow bikes on buses, protecting the Bicycle Bill (a historic state initiative that commits public transportation money to bike lanes) from several legislative attacks, and making sure new projects have a bicycle-friendly design.

Car Sharing. While car-sharing is more established in Western Europe, Portland is considered the ‘birthplace’ of car sharing in North America. Car sharing is distinguished from car rental by its cost-effective, streamlined membership system which allows members to electronically reserve (even at short notice) and access one of its fleet of vehicles parked at various stations around the city.

In Portland, two companies, Flexcar and Zipcar, dominate the car-sharing market. About half of Flexcar’s vehicles are gas-electric hybrid vehicles. There are memberships for both individuals and companies.

The idea behind car sharing was to add another option to the transportation mix and provide an alternative to people who sometimes need cars but do not want the expense of owning one. Car-sharing, combined with a sound public transportation system and walkable design, can help to reduce consumption of land and concrete needed to house cars, as well as materials used to produce them. Car sharing in Portland is a valuable case in itself and there are plans to document this case in the near future.

Public Transportation. Tri-Met, or the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon is the public agency responsible for the region’s bus and light rail system (Metropolitan Area Express, or MAX). Tri-Met was founded in 1969 when Tri-Met took over the bankrupt Rose City Transit, which at the time had 175 buses and a daily ridership of around 65,000 people.

As of April of 2004, Tri-Met handles 300,000 rides per weekday. There are 638 buses on 93 lines. MAX trains officially began running on the Blue Line in 1986. Since then, two more lines have been added, and currently there are 105 MAX light-rail cars on 3 lines with more lines (or extensions) planned. There are some 64 stations along 44 miles of light rail. Tri-Met operates a streetcar as well, but does not own in (the City of Portland owns it). MAX and 16 of the bus lines run every 15 minutes or better, all day, every day.

Transportation routes are organized into three fare zones, with Zone 1 being the “Fareless Square”, an area in and around downtown Portland within which all rides are free. Along 5th and 6th Avenues downtown, there are exclusive bus lanes. Portland Mall is the metro-wide hub for transportation, where riders are often able to get to their destination with only one transfer. Recently, some companies in the region have begun adding public transportation passes as part of its benefits packages (see Susan Anderson’s comments in Quotes section).

Light rail by its simplest definition distinguishes itself from heavy rail technologies which includes subways, high-speed trains, and freights. Though light rail tends to overlap with terms such as streetcars, trolleys, or trams, light rail is considered the modern successor of this technology. Light rail is essentially an electric railway system with an ability to operate single or multiple cars. It is normally powered by overhead electric wires and operates either off-road or in mixed traffic. MAX does both.

The obvious advantages of light-rail over heavy rail transit such as a subway system, is cost, since light rail doesn’t require the type of capital-intensive infrastructure, such as tunnels for subways. They are also generally cleaner, quieter and more comfortable than buses or subways.

However, there are certain design flaws which limit the capacity of the light-rail lines in Portland. One of them is that the short downtown blocks, at 61 metres (200 feet) don’t allow more than two 27cars per light rail train because stopped trains would block intersections. Attempts are being made to find ways to increase capacity of the light rail lines (see Metro Councillor Rex Burkholder’s comments).

As of 2002, 27% of weekday transit trips were made on MAX. In its 20-year history, MAX ridership has doubled.

The total capital cost of MAX is about $ 1.65 billion spread over 25 years. The federal government contributed about $ 1.1 billion or about 70% of the capital cost. The state and local governments have contributed about $450 million over 25 years, which makes the average annual contribution of around $20 million. The airport line was a private-public partnership with Bechtel as the private source.

EcoTipping Point Analysis

Normal socioeconomic forces “doing the work”

Creation of the UGB leads to rising land prices within the UGB. This is a market signal to encourage more compact development to offset the rising prices. When the UGB began, the average lot size was 13,000 square feet, by the mid nineties it had gone down to 8,700 square feet. By 1995, attached homes for example townhouses made up 12% of units versus 3% ten years earlier.

Sprawl is a result of new investments (often subsidized by the federal government) in the growing suburbs and outer-edge cities corresponding with the disinvestment in central cities, inner-ring or older suburbs. This fuels disparity between urban and suburban areas. Meanwhile, older suburbs and cities have less available land and a smaller tax base than newer suburbs. There is normally inter-jurisdictional competition for ‘rateable land uses’ (those land uses that generate more additional tax revenues than service costs). This drives competition instead of cooperation among cities and counties in a metropolitan region, and is therefore a disincentive to comprehensive planning. In the case of Portland, Metro has both the political clout and statutory authority to minimize that competition.

Urban Vicious Cycles

Crime rates increase as cities grow= ‘White flight’ into suburbs=Reduced tax base in inner cities=Less services and higher taxes for those in inner cities=More flight from inner cities=Increase in crime and neglect in inner city

People moving out of cities=Declining tax base in urban areas=Higher tax rates and/or declining services=Less incentive to live there=More people moving out.

Reduced markets for small businesses in cities=More dependence on big-box retailing and shopping malls in suburbs=Less demand for goods and services in the cities (especially on weekends)=Small business and retail in cities shut down=Less choice of where to shop=More dependence on big-box retail

People moving ever further out to outer-edge suburbs to escape ever-increasing levels of congestion and sprawl within suburbs =Need for more tax money diverted into car-based infrastructure (roads, highways, pipes, tunnels)=Less incentive to develop public transportation=More development into suburbs further afield=Congestion and sprawl catching up to newer suburbs=People move even further out to new suburbs

More low-density development==Increased dependence on cars=More low-density development=More cars

People moving out to suburbs=Land prices in suburbs rising=People moving further out into outer-ring suburbs

Land speculation in rural areas near an urban region=Tax assessments rising=Farmers unable to hold onto rural land=Farmers selling land to speculators for development divided up into subdivisions or strip-malls=More speculation in rural areas

Virtuous Cycles

A Sprawlwatch report describes a set of feedback loops:

  • “This alternative vision of metropolitan growth has evolved through a number of mutually reinforcing policies. The city's growth boundary forced a new consideration of regional land use. In concert with fair housing laws that allocated affordable housing among towns in the Portland area, suburban subdivisions were built using less land per household. This in turn produced sufficient concentrations of people to support light rail transportation.
  • The public investment in light rail, in turn, has spurred other benefits. Developers, recognizing the conveniences made possible by the light rail system, have been eager to build new housing, offices and stores near rail stops. This has boosted ridership of the system and made the neighborhoods near the rail stops more lively and diverse. The mixed-use development has also opened up more opportunities to build affordable housing units.” (Sprawlwatch Clearinghouse website, “Best Practices: Regional Governance, Portland”).

The Commons – Tragedies and Triumphs

Land, and its associated watersheds, forests, farmland, and natural areas, is the most visible ‘commons’ in this case. For example, it appears in the ‘tragedy of the commons’ sprawl scenario where individual choices (speculating on or buying land further out into suburban hinterlands where land is initially cheap, fleeing the congestion in the inner suburbs and choosing to ever further away from the city), when taken collectively, inevitably cost everyone in the long run (less open spaces, less transportation choices, more air pollution, less sense of community and place, longer commutes, reduced quality of life).

By the same token, a ‘triumph of the commons’ can result with regional planning because jurisdictions are no longer allowed to ‘get away with’ making decisions on their own that would affect neighboring jurisdictions, and possibly the region as a whole (in effect, one subregion can no longer externalize their costs onto another part of the region). With the UGBs in place and population pressures high, there was recognition of the need for stronger regional planning. Every jurisdiction knew its plans had to accommodate some of this projected growth, because if it didn’t, this would cause the UGB to expand and thus have negative impacts for everyone in the region. In this way they are more motivated to work together and make plans which are in alignment with the rest of the region.


In a complex case like this, replicability is difficult to demonstrate directly. However, Portland attracts visitors from around the country and internationally to learn about its success and attempt to adapt some of its elements to their region. There is a strong movement for land-use planning around the country and more metropolitan regions are introducing various measures to better manage growth. Portland plays a role in this movement. Among the planning community, Peter Calthorpe has helped to make ‘smart growth’ and ‘new urbanism’ buzzwords. Other cities around the nation are adopting UGBs, such as Seattle and San Jose. Others are adopting other kinds of zoning changes or greenbelts to contain sprawl.

We also encountered reservations about the ability for other, less politically progressive parts of the country to follow Portland’s model. This came up in our interviews and was also described this way by Lang and Hornburg who write: “Carl Abbott, and urban studies professor at Portland State University, provides an overview of the political and historical forces that led to Portland’s unique regional governance, in which, as Abbot notes, “city and suburbs talk to each other.” Abbott offers a generally positive appraisal of Portland’s growth management experiment but cautions that many of the practices may not be replicable elsewhere because of the region’s unique set of favorable conditions, which includes a tradition of progressive politics.” (Robert E. Lang and Steven P. Hornburg. “Planning Portland Style: Pitfalls and Possibilities.” Online: Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech


  • Adams, Bruce: “The Portland Way.” From Boundary Crossers: Case Studies of How Ten of America's Metropolitan Regions Work (Academy of Leadership, 1998).
  • Bartholomew, Keith. “Making the Land Use, Transportation, Air Quality Connection (LUTRAQ)-Freeways or Communities: It’s Your Choice.” (adapted from a speech, 199?)
  • Bragdon, David. “Case Study in Regional Planning: Portland’s Metro Council,” San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, September 2003.
  • Benner, Richard. Remarks made at a seminar on environment and development: “The Path to Sustainable Development”, May 24/2000 at Shanghai, China.
  • Carson, Richard H. “Metro slow to take on growth management planning,” (The Oregonian, February 5, 1993) Online link
  • Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. Online link
  • City of Portland. “Central City Transportation Management Plan: Plan and Policy” Online link
  • Lang, Robert E., and Steven P. Hornburg. “Planning Portland Style: Pitfalls and Possibilities.” Online: Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.
  • League of Women Voters of Portland, “Portland’s Neighborhood Associations Part 1-History,” 2005.
  • Metro. “The Nature of 2040: The regions 50-year plan for managing growth.” (Information booklet, 2000)
  • Metro. “2040: Decisions for Tomorrow.” 1994.
  • Metro. “Metro 2040 Growth Concept.” 1994.
  • Metro. “Concepts for Growth: Report to Council, June 1994.” 1994.
  • Metro Growth Management Services Department. “2040 Framework: Report on Public Involvement, Summer 1995.” 1995.
  • Metro Growth Management Services Department “2040 Framework Newsletter.” (Issues Spring 1996, Fall 1995/Winter 1996, Fall 1997).
  • 1000 Friends of Oregon. “Making the Connection: Technical Report: How to Develop an Integrated Alternative.” 1997.
  • Patterson, John. “Urban Growth Boundary Impacts on Sprawl and Redevelopment in Portland, Oregon.” University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Department of Geography and Geology.
  • Phillips and Goodstein. “Growth Management and Housing Prices: The Case of Portland, Oregon.”
  • Sedway, Paul. “They Planned, It Worked.” San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) newsletter, Nov/Dec 2005, p. 10.
  • Thomson, Ken. “Portland Participation,” (Online: Civic Practices Network Site. Online link
  • U.S. Department of Transportation: “Transportation Case Studies in GIS, Case Study 2: Portland Metro, Oregon - GIS Database for Urban Transportation Planning,” 1998.
  • Walljasper, Jay. “The Portland Model.” Chicago Conscious Choice: A Conscious Enlightenment Publication, October 1999.
  • Sprawl City Website
  • Oregon Public Broadcasting
  • Wikipedia Website
  • Interviews by phone and in person and site visit to Portland in November 2005.


  • LCDC (Land-Use and Development Commission): The administering agency set up to put Senate Bill 100 into operation.
  • LUTRAQ (Land Use, Transport and Air Quality): A research initiative launched by 1000 Friends of Oregon to compare various alternatives to the plan to build a highway known as the Western Bypass.
  • ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation)
  • ONA (The Office of Neighborhood Associations)
  • RUGGOs (Regional Urban Growth Goals and Objectives)
  • TODs (Transit Oriented Developments): Areas where commercial, employment and housing opportunities are clustered in market centers along transportation corridors
  • UBGs (Urban Growth Boundaries): The official boundary between urban and rural land surrounding the metropolitan Portland region which is intended for a 20-year supply of land and is periodically extended through a rigorous decision making process.

Back to top