The Battle Over Growth in Portland

A documentary focusing on Portland's urban growth boundary begins airing this month on public television stations across the country. It includes interviews with proponents on all sides of the smart growth issue.

2 minute read

May 5, 2009, 9:00 AM PDT

By Tim Halbur


The documentary is a collaboration between Northern Light Productions and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. "Portland has been a notable experiment in land use planning, and the film shows how challenging that can be," said Gregory K. Ingram, president of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. "The issues that come to life in the film - property rights, the value of land, density and transportation, planning and citizen participation - include many that we think cities all over the U.S. will need to confront." Following the passage of Oregon's landmark land use planning system in 1973, Portland established an urban growth boundary containing development within a 22-square-mile area, protecting surrounding farmland and open space; a regional governance system spanning 24 municipalities and three counties; and an ambitious system of light rail and streetcars to service more dense, compact, mixed-use urban form. Then, in 2004, after a state-wide campaign that raised questions about property rights and the fairness of the entire regulatory framework, voters passed Measure 37, which allowed development outside the urban growth boundary. A competing initiative, Measure 49, was then put on the ballot in 2008 to reverse those changes.

Incorporating historic footage of Portland as the self-proclaimed "City that Works," and recent interviews with city leaders and neighborhood residents during the battles over ballot measures on the land-use planning system, Portland: Quest for the Livable City is a cautionary tale for planning in the 21st century. As cities across the country today attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in transit, and focus on infill redevelopment as an alternative to car-dependent sprawl, the experience of Portland underscores a complex web of issues including economic development and jobs, gentrification, local food and farming, property rights, and civic participation."

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