NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Portland: Smart Growth's Bad Example

October 14, 1999

Portland, Ore., is pioneering Smart Growth (also known as the New Urbanism), the latest fad in urban planning. Smart Growth promises such things as less congestion, more affordable housing and cleaner air, says economist Randal O'Toole. But in Portland, Smart Growth policies are delivering rapidly increasing congestion, higher housing prices and more pollution.

Portland's regional government, called Metro, anticipates area population will increase 75 percent by 2040. Yet it plans to increase highway capacity no more than 13 percent while it adds 90 miles of rail transit lines to the 30 miles already built.

  • In 1990, 92 percent of all the trips taken in the Portland area were by auto, while 3 percent were by transit and the rest were by walking or bicycling.
  • Metro officials project that even with planned changes, by 2040 Portlanders will still drive for 88 percent of their trips and use transit for just 6 percent.
  • And the number of miles of congested roads will more than triple -- partly due to "traffic calming" measures to discourage driving, such as narrowing and reducing the number of traffic lanes, including eliminating turn lanes on major streets.

Metro plans to increase population density by two-thirds; for example, some neighborhoods of single-family homes have been rezoned for multi-family housing. There is now a huge surplus in apartment and multi-family housing and a major shortage of single-family homes. Since 1996, Portland has ranked among the five least affordable U.S. housing markets and land prices have increased sevenfold.

Metro also admits that its plan will increase smog by 10 percent, which is consistent with Environmental Protection Agency data showing that the worst air pollution is found in the densest cities and urban areas.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "Portland: Smart Growth's Bad Example," Brief Analysis No. 305, October 14, 1999, National Center for Policy Analysis, 12770 Coit Rd., Suite 800, Dallas, Texas 75251, (972) 386-6272.

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