Portland, Oregon Voters Sour on Densification Over Time

In the back of the Sustainable Northampton Plan, you’ll find results from a 2006 opinion survey
(Appendix B, p.71-80). At first blush, it appears that Smart Growth principles such as densification and transit-oriented development are popular: 89% of
respondents agreed that “Development Should Be Encouraged At Densities
And Locations That Can Support Transit”. The problem with surveys like these is that the politically correct answer is well known, and may correlate poorly with actual individual behavior. The phrasing of questions is key. The Urban Land Institute–no enemy of Smart Growth–discloses that only “about one-third of respondents [to
consumer preference surveys by real estate analysis firm Robert Charles
Lesser & Co.] prefer smart growth housing products and communities” (PDF,
5.1MB, p.19).

Densification involves tradeoffs: less urban greenspace, less parking per person, more traffic congestion, hotter urban temperatures, and others. The Sustainable Northampton survey hints that respondents may not be eager to make these sacrifices: 90% of respondents said “We
Should Protect More Open Space and Wildlife Corridors”.

Portland, Oregon has implemented many aspects of Smart Growth, starting in the 1970s. Recent votes there suggest that some of these principles, notably densification, are becoming increasingly unpopular. These votes deserve attention, as they indicate how people feel about Smart Growth after they’ve had actual experience with it. It would be a shame for Northampton to travel needlessly the same path from enthusiasm to disillusionment.

Randal O’Toole of the Thoreau Institute details the shift in Portland sentiment in the following two articles, reprinted with permission.

How Not to Run a City Part Two: Planners Derailed

July 10, 2006

[Part One describes how Smart Growth principles were enlisted for private gain.]

Despite bad reviews offered by, among others, the Cascade Policy Institute,
Thoreau Institute, and others, Portland, Oregon is still touted as the
model for other cities to follow. Streetcar proponents in Madison,
light-rail proponents in Minneapolis, and dense housing proponents in
Denver all point to Portland as a successful example of these

In Portland itself, the number of advocates for such plans is rapidly declining. The 2004 Neil Goldschmidt sex scandal
fractured the consensus among Portland’s elites. But rank-and-file
Portlanders had already become disenchanted with Portland’s expensive,
congestion-producing plans.

To see this trend, let’s briefly review the history of planning in Portland:

  • 1919 – Portland became the first city in the nation to pass a
    zoning ordinance, which protected the city’s single-family
    neighborhoods from unwanted intrusions of apartments or shops.
  • 1920 – Using an initiative petition, realtors overturned the
    zoning ordinance (which allowed New York City to claim to be the first
    to pass a zoning ordinance). The vote to reject the ordinance won by
    just 219 votes out of 61,000 cast.
  • 1924 – A city council now dominated by realty interests
    adopts a new zoning code that places more than 40 percent of the city,
    including many single-family neighborhoods, in a multi-family zone.
  • 1960s – Developer Bill Weston starts buying homes in
    single-family neighborhoods zoned for multi family, replacing them with
    cookie-cutter apartment complexes, bringing down the values of adjacent
    single-family homes and saturating the market for dense housing.
  • 1969 – Oregon’s legislature requires all Oregon cities and
    counties to write comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances that
    conform to those plans.
  • 1973 – The legislature creates a seven-member Land
    Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) appointed by the
    governor with power to write planning rules that all cities and
    counties must follow.
  • 1974 – LCDC’s rules require all cities to draw urban-growth
    boundaries and severely restrict what can be done outside those
    boundaries. Outside, most land must be zoned for 40-acre minimum lot
    sizes, later increased to 160 acres. Inside the boundaries, the rules
    mainly require that cities provide a full range of housing, meaning
    that cities must zone at least areas for multi-family housing.
  • 1975 – Attorney Henry Richmond founds 1000 Friends of Oregon
    to monitor the plans written under LCDC’s rules. In effect, 1000
    Friends becomes LCDC’s enforcement arm, challenging plans that do not
    preserve enough land from development outside of urban-growth
    boundaries and, on occasion, challenging plans inside growth boundaries
    that do not provide enough multi-family housing.
  • 1986 – The last plan passes 1000 Friends’ and LCDC’s scrutiny
    and is approved. At this time, less than 1-1/4 percent of the state is
    in an urban-growth boundary, about 1 percent is in a rural residential
    zone allowing 5-to-10 acre lot sizes, and virtually all of the rest is
    rural (40-acre lot sizes) or some other preservation zone.

Up to this point, almost all of the impacts of Oregon’s planning
rules have fallen on rural landowners, who have seen their properties
downzoned, first to 40-, and then to 160-acre minimum lot sizes. (A
1993 rule would be even more strict, forbidden rural landowners to
construct a house on their own land, even if they owned 160 acres,
unless they actually farmed the land and earned $40,000 to $80,000, depending on soil productivity, per year from farming it.)

Oregon’s urban residents think they benefit from these rules. They
get to enjoy pastoral vistas instead of subdivisions as they drive
between Oregon cities. Of course, they tell themselves that the rules
“protect the farmers,” but many farmers are frustrated by the strict
and sometimes inane rules governing their land.

  • A farmer just outside the Salem urban-growth boundary started
    selling blueberries from a roadside stand. To add value to the sales,
    his family made blueberry muffins, then blueberry pancakes. Soon the
    Blueberry Cafe, which complies with all health codes, was selling
    several tons of local blueberries a year, but LCDC shut it down for
    violating a rule that at least 75 percent of what farmers sell must be
    locally grown.
  • LCDC rules forbid the construction of par-3 golf courses in
    rural areas, but strangely allow the construction of regulation
    (average par 4) golf courses. (Could it be because the elites who have
    written the rules golf at par-4 courses but think par-3 courses are
    beneath their dignity?)
  • When a regulation golf course sought to put a snack bar on
    the ninth hole to relieve golfers’ thirst, it is told that it can only
    sell food at the clubhouse.

In 1976, angry rural landowners use the initiative process to put a
measure on the ballot repealing the law that created LCDC. But
demographics weigh against them: two out of three Oregon voters live
inside of an urban-growth boundary. Not surprisingly, the measure wins
less than 43 percent of the vote. When ruralites try again in 1978,
they get less than 40 percent of the vote.

In 1981, Oregon enters a deep recession which many blame on the
state’s “anti-business climate.” But when rural landowners try to
repeal Oregon’s land-use law again in 1982, they manage to get just 45
percent of the vote.

             Table One
Election History for Land-Use Measures
Year Measure Yes No
1976 Repeal LCDC 42% 58%
1978 Repeal LCDC 40% 60%
1982 Repeal LCDC 45% 55%
2000 Property Rights 53% 47%
2002 No Densification 66% 34%
2004 Property Rights 61% 39%

(All results statewide except 2002, which is Portland-area only)

By the late 1980s, LCDC and 1000 Friends appear to have won
everything they ever wanted. The plans were done and nearly 98 percent
of the state was set aside for minimal to no development. LCDC had been
tested at the polls three times and received overwhelming support from
the state’s urban voters. Some people wonder if 1000 Friends has any
reason to continue. Indeed, looking for more worlds to conquer, founder
Henry Richmond started the National Growth Management Leadership
Project to spread the gospel of growth planning to other states.

Then, in about 1988, the Oregon Department of Transportation
proposed the Westside Bypass, a new freeway in the Portland area to
serve suburban Washington County, the fastest-growing part of the
Oregon side of the Portland area. (Relatively unregulated Vancouver,
Washington was growing much faster than anything in Oregon.) The area
served by the freeway was entirely within Portland’s urban-growth
boundary, but the highway itself would briefly cut across a corner
outside the boundary.

Though the freeway would have no exits outside the boundary,
planning advocates went ballistic, claiming that the freeway was a
“boundary buster,” i.e., a covert attempt to expand the boundary. In
reality, much of the opposition came from auto opponents who used the
boundary as a way to snare land-use planners to their point of view.
The effort was successful, as a 1989 memo
from the director of the Department of Land Conservation and
Development to then-Governor Neil Goldschmidt reveals that the agency
was responding to the Westside Bypass by writing a “transportation
planning rule” that would deal “with the question of how transportation
planning decisions affecting land use are made.”

1000 Friends jumped on the bandwagon, getting large grants from a
variety of foundations to do a study of “land use-transportation-air
quality” (LUTRAQ). Based largely on speculation, the LUTRAQ study
claimed to show that people living in higher densities with good
transit service would drive less than people in lower densities.

Influenced by LUTRAQ, in 1991 LCDC adopted a transportation planning rule
heroically directing all Oregon urban areas with more than 25,000
people to reduce per-capita driving by 20 percent within 30 years
(later reduced to 10 percent). To achieve this reduction, the rule
specifically ordered cities to plan for higher densities, mixed-use
developments, retail shops that front on the sidewalks instead of
parking lots, and more transit service. Meanwhile, the Department of
Transportation abandoned the Westside Bypass, with the result that
Washington County highways have become increasingly gridlocked (but
planners don’t care).

Metro’s 1997 plan for Portland, described in detail in The Vanishing Automobile,
called for a 70-percent increase in population densities, high-density
redevelopment of at least three dozen neighborhoods and numerous
corridors, and restrictions on large retail stores and parking in
retail areas. This plan was largely a response to LCDC’s transportation
planning rule. In anticipation of the plan, most of the twenty-four
cities and three counties in the region rezoned many neighborhoods to
higher densities in the mid-1990s. In some cases, the zoning was so
strict that if someone’s house burned down, they would not be allowed
to rebuild it: they could only build an apartment or other multi-family

One problem with the plan was that Bill Weston’s 1960s and 1970s
apartments, combined with apartments built in the 1970s as a part of
downtown urban-renewal projects, had pretty much saturated the demand
for high-density housing in the region. Although single-family home
prices were rapidly rising in the 1990s, real estate analysts found
that rental rates were flat. So developers made no effort to build any
of the high-density projects that planners had zoned for.

Portland and other local governments responded with tax waivers,
tax-increment financing, below-market land sales, direct grants, and
other subsidies to developers who would put in high-density or
high-density mixed-use housing projects (see recent example).
A few downtown condominium projects sold well, but most multi-family
housing ended up with high vacancy rates. The shops that were supposed
to occupy the mixed-use developments also remained vacant unless there
was plenty of parking for them.

revealed that, contrary to LUTRAQ’s claims, most people in these
developments did not greatly alter their driving habits. Instead, their
cars jammed the streets that mostly had been designed to serve much
lower density neighborhoods.

Planning advocates argued that higher densities were needed to avoid
urban sprawl in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which covered one-seventh
of the state but housed two-thirds of its residents. Ironically, this
was refuted by a study
commissioned by the Willamette Valley Livability Project, one of many
groups created by 1000 Friends of Oregon. The study found that 5.9
percent of the valley had been urbanized in 1990 and predicted that,
under current planning rules, this would increase to 6.6 percent by
2050. But if there were no rules, and “private property rights and
short-term market forces” were allowed to prevail, 7.6 percent of the
valley would be urbanized by 2050. So the restrictions on rural
landowners and densification of urban areas protected just 1 percent of
the valley from development.

The neighborhood densification that resulted from the transportation
planning rule alienated many urban residents who had previously
supported Oregon’s planning. It was one thing to downzone rural lands
to protect the scenery enjoyed by urban residents. It was another thing
to upzone urban neighborhoods, increasing congestion and often bringing
down residential values.

A visible sign of dissatisfaction with densification could be seen
in the voting trends for light rail. While light rail was sold to the
voters as a way of reducing congestion, planners considered it to be
more of a land-use program. Light rail “is not worth the cost if you’re
just looking at transit,” Portland planner John Fregonese told a
Wisconsin newspaper. “It’s a way to develop your community at higher
densities.” Indeed, under LCDC’s rules, planners rezoned one-half mile
around nearly every rail station to higher densities.

Portland-area voters were asked to vote on light rail four times
during the 1990s. In 1990, 75 percent of them supported it. In 1994, 65
percent supported it, still a comfortable margin. By 1996, this had
fallen to 55 percent. In 1998, only 47 percent supported it. Since the
1994, 1996, and 1998 votes were all for the same project, it was clear
that people were becoming disenchanted with the idea. In the 1998 vote,
residents of the city of Portland supported rail, but residents of
every suburb but one opposed it — a suburb that had no rail plans and
so was not threatened by rezoning.

              Table Two
Election History for Light-Rail Measures
1990 Westside 75% 25%
1994 South-North 65% 35%
1996 South-North 55% 45%
1998 South-North 47% 53%

(All results for the Portland area only)

Light-rail advocates
claim that the fact that Portlanders voted for three out of four
light-rail ballot measures shows they support it. But, as usual,
planning advocates conveniently ignore the clear and probably
irreversible trend of increasing opposition to rail transit boondoggles.

In 2000, Oregonians in Action, a group
representing rural landowners, sensed the alienation among urban voters
and wrote an initiative petition, known as measure 7, restoring
property rights to landowners whose property values had been reduced by
land-use regulation. This would not stop densification; it would only
help rural landowners who had owned their property before the rules
were passed.

Planning advocates bitterly opposed measure 7. Oregon’s governor,
John Kitzhaber, warned that “it would destroy the quality of life, the
very soul of our state.” Yet the measure received 53 percent of the
votes, many from people (as one planner admitted) “tired of heavy-handed government planners.”
In response, the executive director of Metro revealed just how out of
touch he was with the voters by demanding a grandiose constitutional
amendment mandating “tight regulation” and planning for “coordinated
land uses.”

Planning advocates took measure to court and had it thrown out in a
precedent-setting technicality. Oregonians in Action fixed the
technicality and put the measure, now numbered 37, back on the ballot
in 2004. Opponents outspent supporters by four to one, yet this time
the measure passed with a phenomenal 61 percent of the vote. The
majority in every county in the Portland area and every county in
Oregon but one supported the measure.

Like measure 7, measure 37 did nothing about densification, but in 2002 Oregonians in Action wrote another initiative
seeking to take away Metro’s right to densify neighborhoods. Metro
responded with its own measure halting any densification until after
2015. During the campaign, Metro supporters claimed the Oregonians in
Action measure was supported by greedy speculators while Oregonians in
Action asked its supporters to vote for both measures. The Metro
measure received 66 percent of the vote; the Oregonians in Action
measure received only 42 percent. Both sides declared victory, but it
is evident that Metro submitted its own measure only because it feared
to fight a battle over density.

In the 1970s and 1980s, downzoning alienated rural Oregon landowners
by taking away their property rights. In the 1990s, densified upzoning
and tax subsidies for dense developments alienated urban residents by
increasing congestion and threatening urban services. In 2004, the
Goldschmidt scandal made the region’s elite realize that Portland’s
plans had been hi-jacked by a group of developers seeking corporate

Still, many Portlanders remain unaware of the scope of the harm planners are doing to their city.

  • They resent the congestion and the so-called traffic
    calming projects, but they don’t realize that planners are deliberately
    increasing congestion.
  • They resent the insider deals for urban-renewal projects,
    but they don’t realize that those projects are part of a utopian plan
    to get people to live in high-density housing.
  • They see families with children flee Portland for Vancouver
    and more affordable distant suburbs, but they don’t realize that
    unaffordable housing is the result of plans aimed at discouraging
    people from living in a house with a large yard.
  • They worry about the $57 million hole in the Portland school
    budget, but they don’t realize that that hole is the result of property
    taxes taken from the schools to subsidize transit-oriented developments.

Fortunately, liberal bloggers such as Jack Bogdanski and Bill MacDonald have joined fiscal conservatives such as Save Portland and ORTEM
in alerting the public about these plans. Planners know that if they
ever again dare go before the voters seeking money for light rail or
density, they are likely to lose. So the only question is how much
damage can they do without ever again seeking voter approval.

Portland Votes on Density
May 24, 2002

On May 21, 2002, nearly two out of three Portland-area voters voted to
“prohibit increased density in existing neighborhoods.” Opponents and
supporters of smart growth, the planning fad that calls for increasing
urban densities, both claimed victory, leaving many people confused
about who really won.

  • Oregon has lived with increasingly strict land-use laws since 1969.
  • In 1969, the legislature required every city and county in the state to zone all land in their jurisdictions.
  • In 1973, the legislature created a seven-member appointed
    commission that would write rules with which all city and county plans
    and zoning would have to comply.
  • In the mid-1970s, the rules written by the commission
    required all cities to identify urban-growth boundaries. Outside of the
    boundaries, most land would have 40-acre minimum lot sizes.
  • Planning and zoning was complete by the mid-1980s, when 1.25
    percent of the state was inside of urban-growth boundaries, about 4
    percent was zoned “rural residential” (5- to 20-acre minimum lot
    sizes), and the rest was zoned “rural” (40-acre minimum lot sizes).
  • In the late 1980s, the 40-acre minimum lot size was increased to 160 acres.
  • In 1993, a new rule was written requiring owners of farm land
    to actually earn (depending on land productivity) $40,000 to $80,000 a
    year farming before they could build a house on their own land, no
    matter how many acres they owned.

Up to this point, all of the impacts of planning had fallen on rural
landowners. Since rural residents make up only 30 percent of the state,
their protests were ignored by the urbanites who were happy to have the
state “protect open space” at the expense of the ruralites.

Portland-area residents were so happy with planning, in fact,
that they voted in 1992 to create Metro, a regional government with
dictatorial planning authority over twenty-four cities and three
counties. Some people said that the ballot title, “Limits regional
government,” didn’t accurately describe a measure that created the
nation’s most powerful regional government. But while a few voters were
deceived, it is likely that the measure would have passed even with an
accurate ballot title.

Rapid population growth in the late 1980s and early 1990s led
to the development of most of the available vacant lands inside the
growth boundaries of Portland, Eugene, and other of Oregon’s major
urban areas. Planners had originally promised to expand the boundaries
as the state’s population grew. To maintain affordable housing, Oregon
law requires that each city compare the amount of vacant land within
its boundary with the projected growth rate to insure that the boundary
has twenty years supply of developable land.

Yet, as Peter Drucker reminds us, anytime the government does
anything, it almost at once becomes “moral.” Instead of being a
flexible planning tool, the growth boundary became for many a sacred
line. By 1993, a zero-option movement was growing that demanded no
expansion of the boundaries, especially the boundary around the rapidly
growing Portland area. As a result, the state legislature agreed that
Metro could meet the twenty-year developable land supply requirement by
rezoning existing neighborhoods to higher densities.

Metro anticipated an 80-percent increase in the Portland area’s
population by 2040. Its plans called for a mere 6 percent expansion of
the urban-growth boundary–though the zero-option people have prevented
even that.

To accommodate the rest of the newcomers, in 1995 Metro gave
population targets to each of the cities and counties in its
jurisdiction. To meet their targets, the municipalities had to rezone
many neighborhoods of single-family homes for apartments and other
high-density developments.

Metro insisted that local governments use minimum-density
zoning, meaning that all new development in that zone be at least 80
percent of the maximum density of the zone. If you own a quarter-acre
lot in an area zoned for 36-unit-per-acre apartments, you can’t build a
single-family house: you must build at least seven dwelling units. If
your house burns down, you can’t replace it with another home; you must
build apartments or row houses.

This rezoning provoked enormous controversy in the
neighborhoods in which it took place. Despite dozens of meetings
crammed with hundreds of angry residents, the cities managed to rezone
almost every neighborhood on Metro’s target list. City officials told
residents that they had no choice: Metro was making them do it.

Today, most Portland-area neighborhoods of single-family homes
can point to nearby four- and five-story apartment buildings that have
sprung up in response to Metro’s demands for higher densities. These
developments contribute to congested streets, crowded schools, and
overstressed water, sewer, and other urban services.

Because the market for apartments was already saturated in
1995, developers built these high-density complexes only after getting
millions of dollars in subsidies from Metro and local governments.
Metro often buys land and resells it to developers at half price on the
condition that they put in high-density housing. The cities then waive
property taxes and development charges. Metro also funnels direct
grants to many developers using federal funds that, ironically, are
supposed to be used to reduce congestion.

In 1989, a group named Oregonians in Action formed to help
defend rural landowners from Oregon’s strict land-use laws. Rural
groups had previously challenged the laws at the ballot box in 1976,
1978, and 1982. But urbanites always outvoted the rural minority.

The politics changed in the 1990s as densification began
imposing significant costs on urban residents. So an Oregonians in
Action measure on the November 2000 ballot easily won statewide
support. Measure 7, as it is known, would require local governments to
compensate landowners if any land-use regulations have reduced the
property of their land since they purchased the land, the measure
easily passed. The courts have since held up measure 7, but its success
at the ballot box has left planning proponents worried.

In 2001, Oregonians in Action gathered enough signatures to put
a measure on the ballot that would take away Metro’s authority to
require cities to increase neighborhood densities. Polls showed that
most Portland-area voters supported the urban-growth boundaries but
opposed densification. This measure should have led to a clear debate
over the trade offs between density and expansion.

Metro responded by putting its own measure on the ballot.
Metro’s measure prohibited density increases in selected neighborhoods
only, and then only until 2015. But the ballot titles for the two
measures were worded almost identically. If both measures passed, the
one with the most votes would prevail.

Metro’s measure completely changed the nature of the debate.
Instead of a debate over density vs. expansion, it was a debate based
on demonizing Oregonians in Action. Metro’s supporters never argued
they wanted higher densities. Instead, they claimed that greedy land
speculators supported Oregonians in Action’s measure. Metro’s measure,
they claimed, would protect neighborhoods and restore local control
without helping evil developers.

Oregonians in Action could have fight back by trying to demonize Metro.
It chose instead to campaign for its own measure without impugning the
integrity of the other measure. “Our ads were anti-density, theirs were
anti-developer and never addressed density,” says Oregonians in
Action’s director, Larry George.

Metro’s strategy succeeded. With the support of Oregon’s popular
governor and other top officials, Metro’s measure won 66 percent of the
vote. Oregonians in Action’s measure won only 42 percent of the vote.

Yet in a sense, Oregonians in Action’s strategy succeeded, too. “I
voted for both,” admits George. “We wanted at least one of the
anti-density measures to pass overwhelmingly, and that happened.”
Metro’s measure provides at least some protection against density, but
if the other measure had passed, George feared that “Metro and friends
would have had us tied up in court for years.”

The victory of Metro’s measure can hardly be construed as a victory for
smart growth. “During the whole campaign,” notes George, “they ran away
from density and even argued that Metro does not mandate density
increases.” Many observers believe that Oregonians in Action’s measure
would have easily won if Metro hadn’t confused the issue by putting its
measure on the ballot.

Yet it is clear that Portlanders still place a lot of faith in Metro
and government planning. “People are fed up with the increasing traffic
problems and other issues brought about by density,” one voter told me,
“but they are not ready to defang Metro.”

Since its creation, Metro built support for its policies by claiming
that they would reduce congestion and save Portland from becoming like
Los Angeles. In fact, Metro’s internal documents admit that its plans
will quadruple congestion and that its real goal is to “replicate” Los
Angeles-style congestion in Portland.

Multnomah County, which contains Portland, was about the only
county in Oregon to vote against measure 7 in 2000, and it voted
overwhelmingly for Metro’s measure in 2002. Washington and Clackamas
counties, which contain most of Portland’s suburbs, voted against
measure 7 and split nearly 50-50 on the density measures.

So the May election represents a mixed victory for both sides. The
planners won; density lost. How much influence the vote will have on
Portland’s future remains to be seen.

See also:

Randal O’Toole: “Smart Growth Doesn’t Just Threaten Urban Areas”
Smart Links: Turning Conservation Dollars into Smart Growth Opportunities, published by the Environmental Law Institute, proposes to use the popularity of public funding for open space to promote smart growth.

Everyone loves open space. To most urban residents, “open space” means city parks. If they think about it, they realize that their backyards also contribute to open space. Large yards also contribute to diverse wildlife habitat and healthy watersheds. But smart-growth goals of high-density housing are incompatible with this form of open space.

When people vote for open space funding, they are not voting to give up their yards. Yet Smart Links proposes that the two be tied together. Specifically, the report urges federal and state distributors of open space funds to only give money to local governments that have adopted and implemented “smart growth development techniques on lands in the jurisdiction that are not slated for conservation.”

City and county officials are highly susceptible to such extortion. They’ll ask their constituents, “Do you want to get open space funds from the federal government?” If the answer is “yes,” they’ll consider it a mandate for high-density, mixed-use zoning.

Randal O’Toole: “The Folly of ‘Smart Growth'”
The region’s cities and counties
encountered major opposition when they tried to rezone existing
neighborhoods to higher densities. One Portland suburb recalled its
mayor and two members of its city council from office after they
endorsed higher densities over local opposition…

the smart growth policies — high-density developments, light-rail
transit, limited freeway expansions, traffic calming, and parking
limits — are supposed to reduce per capita driving by 10 percent,
Metro’s own planners say that they will fail to meet that goal…

Metro Portland’s Long Experience with Smart Growth: A Cautionary Tale
home price inflation was found to be greater than expected in most of
the states that embraced smart growth, including Oregon, Washington,
Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Colorado…

growth policies actually caused increased suburbanization in Portland,
which now has the 10th greatest suburbanization rate in U.S. As home
prices went up in the site-restricted metropolitan area, families moved
further out to find affordable housing…

Portland: A Photo Tour of Spiraling Densification

Portland Suburb Successfully Staves Off Densification
Oak Grove residents protested loudly enough that the Clackamas County
Commission asked Metro to take Oak Grove off of its list of
neighborhoods to be densified. Metro did so. But dozens of other
neighborhoods weren’t so lucky.

Halle-Neustadt: A Case Study in Compact, Transit-Oriented Development
There will always be a market, though probably a small one, for
high-density housing, whether in Radiant-City high rises or New-Urban
mid rises. The problems arise when planners ignore the market and try
to impose their ideology on people through prescriptive zoning codes,
regulations, and subsidies.

LA Weekly: “What’s Smart About Smart Growth?”
Real estate developers have caught on, using the phrase shamelessly to
gain public support for enormous developments, from a hillside
subdivision near Santa Clarita to the Westside’s Playa Vista, the
massive, 5,800-home development near Marina del Rey. In a city where
growth was once a dirty word, smart growth is the spoonful of sugar
that suddenly makes bigness palatable…

Berkeley, California: Cautions on Infill
How to implement infill has been a hot topic in Berkeley for some time. Sharon Hudson gives her perspective in “Filling in the Details of Berkeley’s Infill Planning Award” (8/8/03):

Citizen input into long-range planning is
excellent—which is why citizens are so astonished when their plans are
entirely ignored by the current Planning Division. Developers sometimes
work successfully with neighbors to create good and popular
developments, but a long list of appeals, lawsuits, and despised large
developments indicates a major problem. Staff routinely stonewalls,
obfuscates, refuses to respond, and ignores neighborhood concerns. In
contradiction to our own ordinances, staff makes no genuine attempt to
facilitate cooperation between applicants and neighbors. Instead,
propelled by their simplistic “smart growth” philosophy, staff
encourages developers to build the largest possible projects over
neighborhood objections…

Vancouver Sun: “Call it EcoDensity or EcoCity –either way it’s a hard sell”

Scrape-Off Redevelopments Provoke Backlash in Denver Neighborhoods

Pictures of Northampton Streets at Various Densities

“Sprawl and Congestion—is Light Rail and Transit-Oriented Development
the Answer?”

…markets work effectively only when there’s a reasonable relationship
between cost and price. Unfortunately, the cost of automobiles to
society largely is borne by taxpayers and residents, rather than by
automobile owners and drivers…

What is true for automobile
drivers is in considerable degree true for transit patrons. In Seattle
bus riders pay only 25% ($1.25) of the cost of a one-way trip, while
the remainder ($3.75) is borne by taxpayers. The buses get considerably
worse per-passenger miles per gallon of fuel than autos do, with
prodigious externalized costs…

It is sheer fantasy to spend billions of dollars on a few rail lines,
in the belief that such expenditures will cause a massively dispersed
metropolitan region to revert its settlement patterns to those of the
pre-automotive era…

Every US community that instigated rail
lines in the past quarter-century experienced burgeoning transit costs
and falling transit marketshare. Every one. The report of Seattle’s
Interim Monorail Committee described the reasons:

very factors that drive congestion—dispersed neighborhoods and business
centers, increased population, higher ratio of employed adults, high
automobile ownership—undercut the viability of conventional public
transit technologies. The bus is a flexible technology, and its capital
cost is fairly modest. But it does not offer a reasonable alternative
for most commuters in a dispersed metropolitan area, and it is poorly
equipped to serve the “chain-linked” trips common to today’s travelers.
Its high operating costs (especially labor) severely encapsulates its
ability to serve mobility needs. Metro’s bus operations are 75%
subsidized, underwritten by a hefty 6/10ths percent sales tax plus a
share of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax equivalent to 3/10ths percent
sales tax—yet it struggles to maintain a mere three percent marketshare
of trips.

Rail—save for the unusual circumstance in which a
surplused freight rail line, located in a fairly heavily settled
corridor, can be obtained inexpensively and converted to transit—is
even less promising. Thirteen US metropolitan areas introduced or
expanded rail service in the 1980s. The uniform result was a radical
increase in required tax subsidies and a marked decrease in transit

…There is a misconception that rail is an energy efficient,
environmentally benign technology. While that impression has
considerable truth when applied to long-haul freight, it is not true of
rail as a passenger device in US urban communities. The automobile
consumption of fuel per passenger mile, in 1993, was 3,593 BTUs. Rail
transit was higher, 3,687 BTUs.[20] But actually, the picture for rail
is considerably worse. The automobile takes its passengers directly
from origin to destination, but rail typically requires supplemental
trips to and/or from the station, whether park-and-ride, kiss-and-ride,
or by bus…

Further, urban rail systems require local transit
operators to alter bus routes to “feed” the rail, due to the limited
coverage of its stations and its higher capacity. These feeder lines,
as in Portland, are among the least cost-effective and least
energy-efficient of the bus lines. And buses are far more
fuel-consuming per passenger mile than automobiles (4,374 BTUs/mile vs.
3,593 BTUs), and are even less fuel efficient than trains (3,687

…not a single light rail line in America carries as many passengers as one conventional freeway lane…

are a myriad of environmentally superior options, including walking,
bicycling, carpooling, vanpooling, congestion pricing, telecommuting,
flexible working hours, parking reform, pricing strategies to improve
bus utilization, etc.—that are beggared and largely ignored while the
money and attention is directed to rail. As for good urban design, it’s
jeopardized rather than aided by squandering money on high-capacity
urban rail projects…