A recent study appearing in the Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA) Spring 2004 issue finds that growth management strategies used in Portland, Ore., to control urban sprawl are working.

The study’s authors, Gerrit-Jan Knaap from the University of Maryland and Yan Song from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said, “Portland is winning the war on urban sprawl at the neighborhood scale.”

“This is a lesson to other states and cities that thoughtful planning approaches carried out over time can change development patterns for the better,” said Knaap, who is executive director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland.

Knaap and Song’s study compared specific measurements of urban form in two Portland-area neighborhoods located in Washington County. One was Orenco Station, a “New Urbanist” neighborhood near a computer plant and light rail line. Forest Glen, a neighborhood in southern Beaverton, was selected because of its composite measurements of urban form that are “typical” of older neighborhoods in the study area.

In each of the neighborhoods, the researchers examined data on street design and circulation systems; density; land-use mix; accessibility; and pedestrian access. They found that neighborhoods in Washington County generally have:

  • Increased in single-family dwelling unit density since the 1960s;

  • Improved the connectivity of internal streets; and

  • Improved pedestrian access to commercial areas and bus stops.

In 1994, for example, new housing in the Portland area averaged five dwelling units per acre. By 1997 and 1998, the density of new development had risen to an average of eight units per acre, exceeding the level projected in the region’s guiding “2040 Plan.”

Portland has been recognized nationally for its innovative and cutting-edge planning efforts. For example, the Hollywood District and Sandy Boulevard area in northeast Portland received the American Planning Association’s (APA) 2001 Current Topic National Planning Award, Making the Transportation & Land Use Connection.

The Hollywood and Sandy Plan used innovative strategies and techniques to increase development potential for residential, commercial and mixed uses, while also enhancing livability, improving pedestrian safety and ensuring adequate parking.

Since passage of Oregon’s comprehensive land-use planning program in 1973 and adoption of urban growth boundaries, nearly 16 million acres of farmland and open space have been protected in the state.


Send tips, feedback or a letter to the editor to dave@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 138.

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