Going, Going…

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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.

Going by train, or bus, or light rail is both an acceptable and viable option in Portland.

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.)

1 Comment

  1. Having grown up in Portland, I’ve watched it’s growth for over sixty years. My family’s old dairy farm was swallowed up by suburban growth, as was all the small family farms, pre-WWII. An old Craftsman style home I once owned on Mt. Tabor had five acres of land at one time.
    I remember well the adoption of the urban boundary, there was a lot of contention about it. I was in favor because without it, Portland would look like LA. The sad thing is that infrastructure didn’t adapt and roads designed for ’50’s era traffic have taken the load of 21st century traffic. I’m all in favor of density, and you can’t dictate other’s aesthetics, so one must be tolerant of changes in architecture. But making room for all those private vehicles is a large part of losing open space. Imagine your neighborhood without cars parked in every available space. Those of us who fought for the bike bill had a dream of diminishing automobile traffic that never happened.
    It’s a joy to see Portland finally institutionalizing the dream of the ’70’s, when people first saw the need to fence-in growth. I’m very impressed with what happened to the old Zidell property, that stood vacant and contaminated for so many years.
    I’m not entirely convinced that forced density is the culprit in inflated property values. I’ve lived in many areas that don’t have those restrictions and values are out of control there, too. I’ve watched a lot of prime farm land being paved over in the Portland area and am very pleased the land restrictions kept development in check.

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