You might have read about the panacea of easy living, good food, and green living know as Portland, Oregon. Everything you’ve read is true and it’s also a falsehood. Especially that statement about it being the place where young people go to retire…
But seriously, the sword that cuts both ways is Oregon’s land use law know as the urban growth boundary. The UGB is an imaginary planning line that is drawn around cities here. On one side of the line, farms and forests are left unmolested. On the other side, homes and businesses must meet density requirements before the boundary is moved. This means that farmland isn’t needlessly mowed down by rampant development and it makes mass transit, critical infrastructure services, and urban planning functional.
All this planning has the unintended effect of driving up the price of real estate within the boundary and making big yards, vacant lots, and scads of natural areas for rambling a little more rare than I’d prefer.
Nothing is sacred. Old homes made of old-growth trees, stately brick commercial buildings, and even not so old, but ugly buildings are constantly being torn down and remade into taller and glassier structures.
One day a friend and I stood in his back yard peering at a construction project beyond his fence. The foundation of a decrepit mansion had been demolished and a handful of home sites were being laid out where just one had existed before.
It was also the place where neighborhood kids would play in the tall grass, ride bikes over dirt bumps, and hide out from grown ups.
“If I believe in the urban growth boundary,” he said mournfully, “I have to believe that density is good too.”
Sadly, I had to agree.
(Stick around: this is the first in a series about my adopted hometown of Portland.)