New Urbanism In Portland: Cato Report Flawed

<p>Following up on a Cato report blasting planning in Portland, the Congress for the New Urbanism offers a fact-check in which Michael Lewyn contends Randal O'Toole's findings are inaccurate and flawed.</p>
September 25, 2007, 11am PDT | colineatonwoodrow
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Earlier this summer the Cato Institute published a report by Randal O'Toole that took issue with planning in Portland including transit-oriented development and efforts to reduce sprawl and auto dependency. Michael Lewyn, an assistant professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, has reevaluated O'Toole's research for the Congress for the New Urbanism. The result is the CNU fact-check, "Debunking Cato: Why Portland Works Better Than the Analysis of Its Chief Neo-Libertarian Critic."

Some findings in the reassessment of the Cato report include:

Lewyn rebuts O'Toole claims that hordes of people are escaping Portland and "moving to communities beyond the reach of Portland planners." In fact, the city of Portland's share of regional growth is far higher than that of other peer metro areas. Between 1980 and 2000, Portland grew as fast as its suburbs - about 43%. In Seattle during the same period, the city grew by 14% while suburbs grew by 46%. In Denver, the city grew 12% while suburbs grew 47%.

Although O'Toole declares "Portland's transit numbers are little better than mediocre," Lewyn reports that transit use has doubled since the debut of Portland's first light rail in 1986, at a time when the population of Porltand's urbanized area grew 50-60%.

Lewyn says O'Toole doesn't prove his claim that Portland planning is driving up housing prices. In fact, numerous cities (many of them in the West) without urban growth boundaries and with few planning policies encouraging compact neighborhoods have more expensive housing. In metro Los Angeles, the ratio of median home price to median family income is 9-to-1 compared to 4.3-to-1 in Portland. The median house price in sprawling Las Vegas is 4.8 times median income. In San Diego, the ratio is 6.7-to-1.

This fact-check is highly valuable to planners and city officials so that good planning practices are not misperceived. The Urban Growth boundary, public transit development, and increasing density in Portland should be considered forward thinking. Read more at

Thanks to Steve Filmanowicz

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Published on Friday, September 21, 2007 in The Congress for the New Urbanism
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