This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 19, 2005 12:33 AM. The previous post in this blog was Here's one for Lars. The next post in this blog is Its days are numbered. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Friday, August 19, 2005

There's no such thing as "smart growth"

More depressing stuff about Portland in the paper yesterday. Here we have the City That Won't Let You Cut a Branch Off the Tree in Your Front Yard Without a Permit, but it will let you move a 100-year neighborhood landmark home to make way for an oversized junk condo building. The article quotes one of the 200 well-paid geniuses in the city Planning Bureau as saying something profound like, "Get used to it."

It's all part of Density Mania, whereby in order to save places like Newberg, we have to wreck Portland. It's so misguided. In case you haven't noticed, we're not saving Newberg, or Dundee or Sherwood. As far as our green space to the southwest is concerned, it's pretty much shot all the way down 99W to McMinnville -- so bad that they're about to build a toll road through the farmers' fields. Even the most prominent gentleman farmer from Portland can't buy his way out of the Californication. On the east-west axis, the U.S. 26 corridor is pretty much shot from Sandy to Seaside. When the last two contiguous Plaid Pantries meet somewhere around Cornelius, they're going to drive a golden spike through the curb.

So exactly what is it that we're ruining the priceless neighborhoods of inner Portland for? It really beats me.

There are a few big pictures here that our elected officials apparently can't see. One is supply and demand. Portland for many years was an island of low housing prices between the Bay Area and Seattle. But folks in both those markets noticed -- about 15 years ago, in fact -- and they've been moving to Oregon in droves ever since, because as outrageously high as our housing prices are, they're still relatively low for a West Coast city. If we keep slapping up particle board junk in Portland, increasing the housing supply, we'll keep our prices lower than theirs, and the hordes will continue to rush in to occupy the mold-encrusted apartments. This beat can go on indefinitely. It won't stop until our prices are as outlandish as they are to our south and to our north -- and the more we condo-ize the place, the longer that's going to take. And the more congestion and more social problems we're going to have.

We're sacrificing the quality of life of the people who are here now in order to make it easier for more people to move here and make it worse.

If Portland really wanted to make its mark as a planning mecca, it would abandon the "smart growth" mantra. There's no such thing as smart growth. It's all bad. You may slow the rate of wreckage down to half-speed with condomania, but you wind up in an even worse place when it's over.

If it comes down to wrecking inner southeast or wrecking Cornelius, I vote for wrecking Cornelius. But neither place has to be wrecked. A "no growth" or "minimum growth" policy could save them both. Sure, housing prices would continue to skyrocket, but when they reached parity with Seattle and the Bay Area, they'd level off, and then, people from those places wouldn't have those dollar signs in their eyes about Portland any more.

Back in the days of the Katz-Goldschmidt mayoral adminstration, they snuffed out the "no growth" folks. Made them out as kooks. Too bad. They were the only ones who had it right. By the time the current residents of Portland realize how right, many of the old neighborhoods will be chopped up beyond recognition.

Comments (34)

Jack, I tend to sympathize with the horror at how fast Portland is changing. But frankly, I'm only aware of two paths for zero growth.

The first is the Detroit/St Louis/Cleveland model. The second is the Aspen/Sausalito/San Juan Islands model. Sure you could lock down development in Portland. But then what would you be left with? Eventually it would probably look more like a giant version of Aspen where all the help lives in trailers 40 miles away.

Keeping the city affordable isn't necessarily about putting up a welcome sign for newcomers. It's also about providing your kids with the same opportunities that our parent's generation provided for us. When prices in Portland match San Franciso and Manhattan where are your kids going to live? Boise? Spokane? Fargo? Lubbuck? Or maybe a trailer park in Woodburn?

Regional planning ensures that growth is distributed fairly throughout the region (both the good and the bad) because the quality of our communities is interdependent in a multitude of ways... environmental especially. IF Gresham goes it alone and trashes the Columbia Slough Johnson Creek headwaters it doesn't matter how much Portlanders want restore their creek or reduce flooding impacts.... and then when the urban cores becomes an environmental wasteland people.

Jack, we're talking arithmetic here. Density = people / land area. To maintain existing density levels, either you have to limit growth in people to zero, or you have to allow for infinite expansion of land area.

We actually *can't* limit the number of people - after all, most of the population growth comes from people who are born and grow up here. (And you can't actually forbid people from moving here either.)

So, your choice comes down to either infinite sprawl - or increasing density. It's basic arithmetic. There are no other choices.

Then, once you've cast your lot with either sprawl or density, the question becomes: how do we handle that change? What kind of development do we want? What features (parks, highways, transit, industrial/commercial areas, etc.) do we want to help ameliorate the negatives of the sprawl/density choice?

"Smart growth" is simply the set of policy choices by those who prefer density over sprawl - but want to see the negative effects of that density ameliorated through human-centered urban design.

You can feel free to hate the methods by which the "Katz/Goldschmidt gang" sought to accomplish those goals - subsidies, favoritism, some dumb choices - but let's talk big picture here:

What's wrong with "smart growth"? And what alternative would you suggest? Willy-nilly unplanned densities without anything to counteract the effects? Or low-density sprawl to the ocean? Either of those is "dumb growth" in my book.

This much we know: "No growth" ain't an option. Portlanders are having babies. By the thousands. And in two decades, most of 'em will want their own place.

Here we have the City That Won't Let You Cut a Branch Off the Tree in Your Front Yard Without a Permit, but it will let you move a 100-year neighborhood landmark home to make way for an oversized junk condo building.

Not to mention that the city is willing to overlook the minor detail of traffic impact in such cases. I assume you're talking about the corner of SE 26th and Division, which is already a crazy intersection at busy times of the day. Adding a 30+ unit condo building with assorted ground-floor retail there will have quite the impact, and that's assuming that the landlord of the Plaid Pantry across the street won't want to convert his plot of land once he sees those condos selling for 400K per.

It's not that density is bad, per se, just that you end up with the same problems packed into a small neighborhood that you were trying to avoid with sprawl--congestion on the roads, etc.

The problem we have is too many delusional people around here who think what ahas been going on is
"""Regional planning ensures that growth is distributed fairly throughout the region"""
When we have really gotten
""" Willy-nilly unplanned densities without anything to counteract the effects?"""

Expensive long term chaos is what our land use goals, Metro and the sea of planners have delivered.

Pretending that the only alternative is equally chaotic sprwawl is perpetuating it.

Reasonable sprawl which occurs all over the place
is the only answer. The benefits are tremendous
and we have plenty of land for it everywhere.

Wow. You've finally come out of the no-growth closet, Jack.

I'll let others provide the intellectual arguments against your rant. They are many, varied, forceful, persuasive, compelling, etc.

And just because Neil Goldschmidt made them doesn't make them wrong. That's called an ad hominem attack.

To be polite, Jack, you are WRONG.

>>This much we know: "No growth" ain't an option. Portlanders are having babies. By the thousands. And in two decades, most of 'em will want their own place.

Which explains why PPS enrollment is down from 52,091 in 1995-96 to 43,594 in 2004-05. And why developers continue to build family friendly studio apartments and 2-bedroom condos. It's great that Portland is going to be ready for these non-existant young urban professionals in 20 years, but where are their parents going to live in the meantime?

David J. says:

I assume you're talking about the corner of SE 26th and Division, which is already a crazy intersection at busy times of the day.

Don't worry David. The former Clay Rabbit will be one of the baubles in the "String of Pearls" [... gag ...] that are part of the Division: Main Street/Green Street plan.

I read that same article and also got a quesy feeling. Not so much because I dislike density, but because that project seems so out of character with the area and its available infrastructure. With what's already going in/gone in on Division, I've seen higher traffic volumes on neighborhood streets. That's just one impact.

Seems to me that this project is too big for the area. That's what made me uneasy about it. Plus the predictions that our inner-city neighborhoods will look more like condos in the future.

The spaztic growth would be less bothersome if the total amount of better-pay-than-Starbucks jobs was increasing. But those nice jobs aren't here. Most of the nearby home purchases near me have been from folks who are semi-retired, or retired altogether.

I work in a retail environment and most days the customers happily gush "I just moved here!" and I silently say to myself: 'well, I hope you know how to recycle, ride a bike from time to time, and generally don't take up more than your fair share of the space and resources around here.' (This is the West, after all, and we like a little elbow room.)

I am a third-generation Oregonian and I'm not going to make myself crazy trying to keep people from moving here. You can't unring a bell. Come if you really must, I say, but have something to contribute (besides your shopping/latte dollars) to our "boutique city" where lifestyle trumps real stuff like schools and jobs. Give something back to your new home. And please, don't say "It's so cheap here." That's a cheap reason to join us.

You know what folks? My wife grew up in what was once a nice upscale leafy residential area full of single family houses called Las Condes in the northeast edge of Santiago Chile. Now instead of neighborhoods that used to look like Laurelhurst and Eastmoreland it looks like this

Is it a hellish place to live now? No, not at all. But instead of a big house with a yard by wife's parents live on the 10th floor of a new condo building with This Starbucks Shop directly across the street next to the Tony Roma's and an 18-plex cinema.

No matter what you all say or do, I doubt Portland will look all that different in 25 years.

Wonder when we'll see the first Kelo-esque eminent domain case in Portland, wherein the city seizes some old house on a busy thoroughfare so that a big condo can be built in its place?

"We actually *can't* limit the number of people - after all, most of the population growth comes from people who are born and grow up here."

Might want to double-check that, Kari. I have read repeatedly in the last few years that most current Oregon residents were not born in the state.

Jack's call was Governor McCall's ("You are welcome to visit but please don't move here.") As you note, it is unenforceable, but I think Jack's greater point would be that the way does not have to be so well-paved and sprinkled with baits and lures.

But whose is "our state" anymore? If my information is correct, "our state" already belongs to recent outsiders. And this metamorphosis happened first, in Oregon, in the Rogue Valley where I grew up.

The retirement living that Scott-in-Japan alludes to is big business in Medford now. At least Medford has morphed its economic base to take advantage of it, and is arguably on solider economic ground now than the metro area is.

(Provocative post & pictures, Kent.)

It's also about providing your kids with the same opportunities that our parent's generation provided for us.

No, it isn't. My parents' generation gave us a beautiful, livable Portland. We're giving our kids cr*p.

Eventually it would probably look more like a giant version of Aspen where all the help lives in trailers 40 miles away.

Oh, like the Oregon coast?

So, your choice comes down to either infinite sprawl - or increasing density. It's basic arithmetic. There are no other choices.

No, rising costs that keep people out is another.

To be polite, Jack, you are WRONG.

And you are banned.

So, your choice comes down to either infinite sprawl - or increasing density. It's basic arithmetic. There are no other choices.

I think the other choice is an emphasis on density that gives at least some say to neighbors who want to preserve their neighborhoods. It's great to emphasize greater urban density, but are you really doing anything to "save" a city if your methods involve a wholesale change in the way it looks? Turning crumbling warehouses into small condo units is one thing--that is making good use of the space, and should be admired. Buying duplexes in already-crowded inner SE neighborhoods and turning them into condo towers is something else entirely.

The word we hear all the time is "liveable." We want to make our communities more liveable. But when I look at Division, and Hawthorne, and Clinton, and Belmont, and Stark, I see much more traffic (at rush hour and throughout the day) than I did even five years ago. And I never hear the city acknowledge this, just more platitudes about liveability. But tell me, how can you call it liveable when more and more people are losing their sunlight to looming condo towers, and are experiencing three times the traffic as they try to make their way home from work?

In some respects, we're just transferring the problems we used to export to the 'burbs into the urban core.

Density has huge benefits in the long run because it costs much less per capita to provide services and maintatin infrastructure in a densely populated city than a sprawling city.

While I agree that there are detriments, too, Jack tends to give this benefit short shrift.

I tried to read all of the comments, but admit I skimmed a bit. Doesn't Portland care at all about the historical integrity/character of its neighborhoods? Jack, you and I are originally east coasters; there's more history there (at least colonial history). It kills me to see this infill take out old places. I am going to buy the 1970 house next door some day, raze it, and move an old house on to the lot. These townhomes and condos look like shit next to the character homes.

Money talks. If a developer can slap down enough dough to purchase a prime piece of real estate, cities will do everything they can to ensure that said development can move forward.

Some cities in the metro area have even been known to change zoning regulations to allow such development.

But development has created jobs (more than the Starbucks variety, think construction), brought more tourism dollars to town (the more press P-town gets, the more people want to visit), and filled previously run-down spaces with useable space.

Sure not all of it is "smart development." But let's face it, now that this giant ball is rolling, its gonna take a hell of a lot to stop it.

Maybe the city should take a look at the big picture and determine what we will all need to be successful, educated, and mobile (more mass transit anyone?) in the next 10-20 years.

When faced with growth there are effectively three choices: 1) denser/go up. 2) spread out. 3) make jobs in smaller cities and send the growth there. Jack doesn't apparently like #1 and #2, and no one knows how to make #3 happen. Various of the elites think they know so much better than the citizens that they force us to try the things that have been done in the name of controlling growth in Portland. Too bad they haven't done well with that. No growth: sorry Jack, but we all intuitively know that no growth is the same as death for a city, even though it's not politically correct to say so (for some, well, they're not even mentally capable of thinking such a hard reality). But that hard reality is one of those unchangable laws of economics. If a city says no new jobs, no new citizens; then those who can, will leave; the city will decline. So if growth is necessary, how to choose to grow. I like #3, but that means more telecommuting; fewer manufacturing jobs; fewer anything that requires the physical presence of large numbers of employees/customers/users. That is a real culture change on top of a change in our economic business model. All in all, its going to be fun getting to wherever we get to. Also fun discussing what we "ought" to do.

"No, rising costs that keep people out is another."

Worked for -- I mean on -- me.

I had reason to be in Southern California the last couple of weeks. Very expensive there also, but gotta say there seem to be beaucoup jobs. Portland awaits those who don't need, or don't think they need, one.


Go here: https://stage.www.pdx.edu/media/p/r/prc_2004_Population_Report.pdf

Since 2000, 43% of Oregon's growth was "natural" (births) and 57% was due to net migration. They don't report the figures, but write that Multnomah County's net growth since 2004 was "primarily" due to natural growth

(Note: this does NOT contradict the impression that lots of young people are moving here IF that is balanced by other people moving out. It means that the PRIMARY source of population growth in Multo Co is due to our own birthrate).

Specifically, Multo grew by 25,264.

There were *39,460* births (yes that is right) and 22,799 deaths, accounting for 16,700 net.

There were 16,691 in migrants and 8,803 outmigrants, accounting for about 8,000 net.

As written here, most growth we are experiencing is "natural." If you want to stop Portland from growing, here's what to do:

1) Tell your children to stop having kids or stop yourself.
2) Kill your parents or tell them to just die earlier.

All that being said, while I'm not sympathetic to Jack's tone (I don't understand for instance why G0rdo was banned--sorry can't even put his real name, apparently that is identified as "questionable content"), I am sympathetic to this particular example.

If "density" and "smart growth" means tearing down historic buildings (although the owner says he is relocating this house) and installing pricey condos, we are really eliminiating the possibility for families to live in this city.

I'd much prefer condo/apartment "zones" be established (like seems to be the case on Belmont right now) while we attempt to retain our relatively lower density housing in other areas.

Otherwise, we run a real risk of losing the neighborhood appeal and charm that many of us cherish in Portland.

G0rd0's post was offensive to me, and nowadays that's all it takes to get you out of here.

There has been and is no genuine planning around here.
20 years of yammering slogans driven by an enamor with the belief that this stop sprawl frenzy is saving the planet. When people, (our "planners" and the activist groups who champion the visioning), think they are saving the planet forget about genuine comprehensive planning.

They have no interest in any of the corresponding detriment to the methods they advocate.
Therefore there is no genuine planning coming out of Metro or the rest of the cabal.
It's mostly propagandizing advocacy for what they view as best for all of us within the objective of saving the planet.

The examples are nearly countless around here
But current events say it all.

In South Waterfront the cabal is so interested in promoting high density at any cost (including the ruin of all our cities, economies and livability) they are about to approve a tax abatement that many or most of us have at least heard about.

There is much to mock in the minutia of the whole idea but cutting to the chase and end game of this particular planners gig, the PDC is advising that the Portland City Council approve a tax abatement for a 319 unit high rise that will last for ten years.
Are you ready.
On the eleventh year the city will exempted $7.5 to $20 million in property taxes and will have NOTHING TO SHOW FOR IT.
The agreement states that the convoluted subsidy to provide "affordable housing" with 48 studio apartments in the tower expires at the same time as the abatement.
The money will be gone and nothing to show for it.
Someone please help me figure out why this would even reach City Hall.

Paul, I looked at your PDF file, but this recent report in The Portland Tribune makes more sense to me.

"Metro area growing by leaps and bounds

"The Portland-Vancouver, Wash., region is one of the fastest growing areas in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Between 1990 and 2000, Clackamas, Clark, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties grew more than twice as fast as the rest of the country.

"According to the Bureau of Statistics, the counties grew 27 percent compared with 13 percent for the United States as a whole during that decade.

"The regional population grew from 1.5 million to 1.9 million between 1990 and 2000, an increase of 400,000 people over 10 years. Today, the population is estimated at 2.1 million by the Population Research Center at Portland State University.

"The center expects the growth to continue, reaching about 2.3 million people by 2010, 2.4 million people by 2015, 2.6 million by 2020 and 2.8 million in 2025 — an increase of approximately 1.3 million people since 1990.

"There are two basic components to population growth: natural increases (births minus deaths) and net migration (people moving in minus people leaving). According to the bureau, net migration accounted for more than 80 percent of all growth in the metropolitan region between 1990 and 2000, the last year a complete census was taken.

"Most of this migration came from western states, according to the Oregon Population Survey, a telephone survey of between 4,000 and 12,000 Oregonians conducted every two years by the Oregon Office of Economic Development. According to the most recent survey, the largest numbers of people came from California and Washington, followed by Idaho, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico."

Source: http://www.portlandtribune.com/archview.cgi?id=30726

Note that the wellsprings of this immigration are why Oregonians (still & ever) love people from New Jersey & New York. 8)

Also, I am spraying my monitor with lavender-scented pressurized air duster before posting. This has a calming effect and prevents offensiveness.


It would be easy to reduce Portland’s growth rate:

1. Quit subsidizing any housing except genuine poverty. Don’t let the definition of poverty slip into middle class. Tell Homer and friends to go screw some other city.

2. Quit our national publicity campaign of how livable we are.

3. Tell Metro to put their density mandate for Portland “where the sun don’t shine”. I am referring to Katz/Hales volunteering to take twice our fair share of new regional residents.

4.Start a counter publicity campaign :
a. Tell the story of people who drowned in the rain and those who were overcome by our pollution (it’s as good fiction as what comes out of our Office of Sustainablity”)
b. Publicize our gang problems
c. Publicize our lousy schools
d. Publicize our meth problem
(Trust me, good PR could solve the immigration problem & unlike metro’s/the city’s spin masters, we would only have to tell the truth)
This will capitalize on natural attrition, by discouraging people from coming in to replace those that naturally leave.

5. Launch a public services usage tax on all property. Allow a 100% credit for property tax paid. The usage tax just happens to be 99.99% of a normal property tax bill ( this might solve some of the above problems, but we don’t have to publicize it)


I remember in 1998 when Bill Atherton ran (and won) a Metro Council seat on a "growth-neutral"platform:in essence, cut back on the subsidies. Par for the course, the Oregonian editorialized that it is "us vs them" zero growth or a deluge. We gotta get beyond this.


You are confusing the metropolitan area growth rate with Multnomah County growth. The Census-defined metro area includes "Clackamas, Clark, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill Counties."

The thread is on "smart growth" insofar as it is represented by the removal of a century old house at 29th and Division.

Kari's original post was correct--the largest proportion of population growth *in Multnomah County* is due to natural birth/death rate.

Jack, if you were offended by Gordo's saying you are wrong, then why allow comments at all? You don't strike me as someone solely seeking the sentiments of sycophantic sypathizers. Sorry.

Paul, it isn't clear from Kari's comment what population base he was talking about. I did say "Oregon," not Portland. Though honestly, not to pick nits, I find it difficult to fathom that Oregon writ large is absorbing a population doubling from in-migration, yet Portland or Multnomah County largely confines itself to natives. ???!!! Even if its population is "stable," one still would not know, would they, who was "new" and who was "old?" (And the data shows, doesn't it, that children are ever more less a part of it?)

I wager my entire wooden nickel collection that the Pearl District, eg, is 95 percent newcomers.

Portland used to be a real people's town, and that has become in my opinion very much less and less true.

Taxpayers won today.

Saveportland.com thanks Commissioners Adams, Leonard and Saltzman for their vote against a ten year property tax abatement for the Alexan project.

Commissioner Leonard correctly observed that the taxpayers could get better value for the city’s taxpayers by collecting property taxes on the Alexan and using the money to supply affordable housing, rather than giving an abatement.


Clicky Web Analytics