Many cities in the West and South are confronted with rapid growth and
urbanization. Portland, Oregon, is responding to growth with an increasingly
popular planning concept called the New Urbanism. Unfortunately,
Portland's plans are likely to make growth problems worse, not better.
Portland's program consists of five basic parts:
This growth-management strategy enjoys
strong support among civic leaders, elected officials, and local
opinion-makers. However, it suffers from major problems:
- Metro, a regional planning agency that can dictate zoning
and transportation planning to three counties and twenty-four cities;
- An urban-growth boundary that aims to minimize sprawl;
- A rail-transit system that may eventually include 90 to 150
miles of routes radiating in six or more spokes from the city center;
- A fifty-year plan that aims to absorb new residents with
minimal expansion of the urban-growth boundary by encouraging, subsidizing, or
even mandating increased housing densities, particularly along the light-rail
- New-Urban design of new developments and redesign of
existing neighborhoods to make them transit- and pedestrian friendly so
residents will minimize auto use.
Metro promises Portlanders that it will save their city from
becoming another Los Angeles. Yet the agency's real goal is to make Portland as
much like Los Angeles, with its heavily congested freeways, as possible.
- The light-rail system will consume the vast majority of the region's
transportation funds, yet it will carry few commuters and actually increase
- The coercive programs of densification and neighborhood redesign will
encounter fierce resistance from residents--resistance that is just becoming
visible as people begin to learn what the plan means to them.
- Coercive elements of the plan are also likely to have unintended
consequences, such as development "leapfrogging" beyond Metro's jurisdiction.
- Even if light rail's cost were lower and neighborhood densification were
politically acceptable, according to Metro's own numbers the strategy will
still fail in its aim of reducing congestion and preserving a small-town
Amazingly, if all of these things happen Metro will count itself
a great success. In fact, these are all Metro's optimistic predictions, and
reality will probably be much worse.
- The Portland that Metro is planning for 2040 will increase its population
density from less than 3,000 people per square mile to 5,000 people per square
mile--equaling today's New York urban area and more than any other U.S. urban
area except Los Angeles.
- Portlanders in 2040 will drive their cars 68 percent more miles on a road
network that only 13 percent larger than today. Of major urban areas today,
only Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia have fewer miles of freeway per
capita than Metro plans for Portland.
- This will nearly quadruple congestion and violate state and federal air
- Meanwhile, the multi-billion dollar light-rail system will carry little
more than 2 percent of all commuters in the region--some of them at a cost to
taxpayers of hundreds of dollars per ride.
- While the urban-growth boundary promises to protect farms, forests, and
open space outside of the boundary, it will do so at the cost of destroying the
farms, forests, and most of the open space that residents now enjoy inside the
Portland's planners have good intentions, but they are trying to impose a
utopian vision on people who would rather find their own answers. The planners'
application of nineteenth-century technology to a twenty-first-century city
will only make the problems worse.
It doesn't have to be this way. Communities can manage their growth without
huge subsidies to ineffective transit systems and without forcing neighborhoods
to increase densities to levels many will find intolerable. The solution is to
treat the problems, not the symptoms.
We all want to reduce congestion and protect open space. Instead of a
fifty-year plan that, because the future is unpredictable, is certain to be
wrong and that uses coercion to treat symptoms rather than problems,
Different Drummer proposes a growth-management program that relies on
We call this program People 2000 because, rather than having
government plan people's lives for fifty years, we aim to give people the tools
they need to solve their own immediate problems. These tools include:
People 2000 will allow
Portland or any city to improve neighborhoods, reduce congestion, comply with
air pollution requirements, finance needed transportation facilities, and
protect the scenery and open spaces that people consider an essential part of
life in the United States.
- Neighborhood associations that give people the power to
improve and protect the areas they live in;
- Congestion pricing of roads to relieve congestion, reduce
gasoline taxes, and provide funds for highway and transit improvements;
- Pollution emission fees to give people incentives to drive
- Demonopolizing public transit to encourage cost-effective
- A scenery and open-space trust that is funded by a
real-estate transfer tax;
- Development fees to insure that new construction pays the
full costs of new services; and
- An end to subsidies to growth.
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