regional goverance: portland
The following material is excerpted with written permission from How Smart Growth
Can Stop Sprawl, a briefing guide for funders by David Bollier. (Washington,
D.C.: Essential Books), 1998. 

Metro Portland is an elected regional government representing the area's three counties. Formed in 1979, Metro was the country's first regional government and a key reason why Portland has become one of the most attractive, livable cities in the nation. If the city's recent evolution is singular, it nonetheless holds many important general lessons.

The impetus for the formation of Metro came from a far-sighted 1973 state law that required Oregon's municipalities to develop comprehensive land-use plans and to establish "growth boundaries" around their perimeter. As journalist Mark Munro writes:

The state land-use law gave Portland a fixed framework by which to channel growth rather than halt it, as well as to avoid the pitfall of controlling sprawl in one place while it takes off elsewhere. Regional government gave the metropolis the power to locate and coordinate development within 24 different localities while preventing developers from leapfrogging out to a cheap periphery. And the use of money earmarked in 1973 for 54 new roads funded the creation of a truly usable and omnipresent light rail and bus system that has limited traffic and pollution....The upshot: By shaping growth assertively, one city in the American West has controlled its destiny even as it boomed.1
Portland has shown that planned growth is not anti-growth. Quite the contrary. By clearly defining where future growth is permissible, and in what forms, the city has avoided divisive political fights over new development projects. Developers can confidently anticipate the future and plan accordingly. Portland has avoided the crippling traffic, air pollution and ugly strip-mall development that distinguishes most urban regions -- while doubling the number of jobs downtown over the past two decades and increasing mass transit ridership. "The result," writes Earth Times, "has been not slowed growth but shaped growth that has been sculptured, massed near rail lines, and gathered into self-contained 'mixed use' 
zones." 2

This alternative vision of metropolitan growth has evolved through a number of mutually reinforcing policies. The city's growth boundary forced a new consideration of regional land use. In concert with fair housing laws that allocated affordable housing among towns in the Portland area, suburban subdivisions were built using less land per household. This in turn produced sufficient concentrations of people to support light rail transportation.

The public investment in light rail, in turn, has spurred other benefits. Developers, recognizing the conveniences made possible by the light rail system, have been eager to build new housing, offices and stores near rail stops. This has boosted ridership of the system and made the neighborhoods near the rail stops more lively and diverse. The mixed-use development has also opened up more opportunities to build affordable housing units.

While "planning" is often cast as an enemy of the "free market," Portland has shown that intelligent planning can maximize growth over the long term. Precisely because Portland has preserved its quality of life and not succumbed to sprawl, it has attracted such major corporations as Hewlett-Packard, Nike, Intel and Hyundai. The leaders of many metro areas such as Atlanta worry that sprawl will cripple their future growth; Portland expects that it will be able to grow to 2.5 million people by the year 2040 while retaining its quality of life and holding its geographic area to less than 400 square miles.

Denver, by contrast, has already reached 500 square miles, and has 2 million people.3  The Atlanta region may be the least dense of all metro area in the nation, with nearly 2.5 million people sprawled across 1,800 square miles.4  Portland has shown that development which is more compact, planned and less automobile-dependent actually enhances prospects for long-term growth.

A critical force in the success of Portland's regionalism has been the leadership of citizen groups, particularly 1,000 Friends of Oregon. Henry Richmond, the founder of this group, has since become a leading national champion of regionalism through the National Growth Management Leadership Project, a coalition of smart growth groups. He has also been instrumental in the founding of other "1,000 Friends of ..." citizen organizations in other states. The on-the-ground research and advocacy of citizens are indispensable if metro regionalism is going to expand.

1Mark Munro, "Managing Growth, Rejecting Sprawl," Earth Times News Service, January 10, 1997, accessed from
2 Ibid.
3 Jeff Gersch, E-amicus, Fall 1996
4 David Goldberg, staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in a briefing paper prepared for the Atlanta Metropolitan Regional Forum, July 28,1997, p.1.