Despite The Best Intentions, Sprawl Continues In Oregon

Though the state is considered a model for smart planning, Oregon's sprawling landscape shows that the state has much the same problems as the rest of the country.

"His uncle was a big-time civil engineer, traveling the world, leaving his fingerprints on projects across several continents.

But Leonard Rydell's engineering career kept him closer to his Oregon roots. And after 36 years laying out the road and service grids for projects throughout suburban Portland -- including much of Wilsonville's Charbonneau development -- he says he's come to realize the region's glowing reputation in urban planning is increasingly an illusion.

He smiled when 1000 Friends of Oregon and two other conservation groups recently called on state planners to change suburban sprawl patterns that, despite light rail and urban growth boundaries, have left 71 percent of Oregonians driving to work alone.

The "up, not out" idea of high-density mixed-use development is a great theory, Rydell said. But the development reality on the ground is that we're heading toward a destination that, in the end, will look and function almost exactly like most places across the country.

To make his point, Rydell jumps up from the chair in his office on the second floor of his Newberg home and rattles down the steps, out the front door, directly into the middle of the street in front of his home.

"What do you see?"

The shoulder-to-shoulder jumble of ranch homes, the cars jammed into the little driveways and lining much of the absurdly wide street is a scene from any city in America.

"Tell me," he continues, as a Chevy Suburban whizzes by us at a good 10 mph above the speed limit, "does it make you feel good?"

"Exactly," he says, guessing my answer, "and yet, this is still what pretty much every city's code is encouraging us to design and build."

Cookie-cutter subdivisions. Shopping clusters. Industrial and business clusters."

Full Story: Sprawl belies Oregon's rep for planning




Sprawl is much worse in Oregon than other places that I have lived further east.

Urban Growth Boundaries are much too little, much too late.


Michael Lewyn's picture

a possible explanation

When Americans discuss sprawl, they use the term to describe two things that often go together but in principle don't have to:

1. WHERE we develop- sprawl defined as movement from core outward to suburbia;

2. HOW we develop- sprawl defined as auto-dependent as opposed to pedestrian-friendly development

My impression is that Oregon has been quite aggressive in dealing with type 1 sprawl (where we develop) but perhaps it has been closer to average in dealing with type 2 sprawl (how we develop).

I agree

New Urbanist developments in Eugene have been done as a speculative process and have been unable to fill the retail space with the available necessities to make the downtown sufficiently walkable for nearby residents.

I think that additional eforts to obtain tenants, (or preferably owners) who provide necessary products (i.e. food, basic clothing, hardware, office products, tele-commuting resources), before-hand would be very helpful in making NU efforts successful.


yet if you travel 20 minutes outside of downtown you are in farmland. i will agree that the older post-war suburban development in portland is very sprawling but the new suburban development (last 10 years) is miles ahead of that elsewhere in the US as far density and pedestrian concerns.

Sprawl continues in Oregon

I think much of the noticeable sprawl was pre-existing to Statewide Planning efforts and, unfortunately, was not adequately discouraged. Some of this actually is within Urban Growth Boundaries. For example, the Metro UGB (which includes the Portland metropolitan area and a number of adjacent cities) included well established strip development areas and sprawl from Portland to Beaverton and on to Hillsboro. It takes time to "change" sprawl. Comparatively speaking though, Oregon still has less sprawl than in many other states I've visited (and lived) where planning programs are of lesser importance. Without its Statewide Planning Goals, I think Oregon would look much differently.


Charles Buki's picture

Technical v Adaptive Fixes

At a meeting at CNU VII in Milwaukee my friend Jim Kunstler once remarked that 'science is no replacement for virtue'. I might modify that and borrow from my mentor Ron Heifetz and provide a reminder that, likewise, for some problems there are technical solutions, and for others either no solutions or ones arrived at only by adaptation.

Sprawl can certainly be shaped down (or up as the case of intent and hope might be) through regulations. But underneath it is first a host of behavioral adaptations Americans haven't been willing to make. The work of such change has been avoided because the true cost of our settlement tendencies has forever been paid by someone else. Second, underneath it, whether there's a UGB or not, is each households' gravitational pull towards people like themselves - either in race or class, and, importantly, away from what's unlike them.

The machinery of choice coupled with cost shifting is the fuel needed to keep the maw of sprawl expanding, and this is no less the case in Portland, OR and Portland, ME.

For tools like O's UGB to become more effective, heavy lifting to spur behavioral adaptation will be required. Fortunately $5 gallon gasoline will be an especially helpful tool in this work.

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