Portland-style 'smart-growth' policy called just plain dumb

By The Associated Press
Seattle Times


PORTLAND Critics of Portland-style planning from around the world gathered over the weekend to discuss their concerns about light-rail investments, closely packed housing and restrictions on uses of farms and environmentally sensitive properties.

The Preserving the American Dream conference wrapped up yesterday, sending about 75 participants back to their hometowns to fight the philosophy known as "smart growth."

Portland has long been known as a center of smart growth, which aims to preserve rural land, decrease car use and increase amenities close to homes. The city also is becoming the heart of a movement against it.

Oregonian Randal O'Toole, an economist with a Libertarian bent, organized a meeting last year in Washington, D.C., for others who were fed up with the shift in how the United States plans for growth.

The group evolved into the Preserving the American Dream Coalition, defining its goals as mobility and home ownership.

Members came from places such as California, Georgia, North Carolina, England and New Zealand. Some were Libertarians, some property-rights activists.

In rural South Carolina, Kay McClanahan is fighting a county growth plan she says will restrict development and farming opportunities especially for black families who own most of the area's agricultural land. The crowd cheered for McClanahan and punctuated her speech with choruses of "That's right" and "Don't give up."

"People know where they want to live and how to get around," said McClanahan, a retired forensics expert who owns a horse farm. "And rural property owners know how to care for our land."

Many conference participants said they were curious about Portland and want to make sure their cities don't emulate its growth patterns.

Oregon gained national attention in the 1970s by requiring long-term growth plans for every local government and setting urban-growth boundaries to corral suburban sprawl.

Metro, the Portland area's regional government, monitors the boundaries and leads the urban area in trying to preserve farms, spark growth in urban hubs and protect the environment.

Local tour leaders on Friday criticized tax breaks and subsidies used to encourage high-density development along public-transit lines.

Many oppose using government money to pay for light-rail routes that serve a small percentage of the population, saying buses are a more economical transit option.

Some speakers said high-density housing such as apartment complexes or condominium high-rises should be permitted but only if the market supports them without government help. Others decried nontraditional living quarters as promoting crime and eroding a comfortable neighborhood feel.

During a session on alternative points of view, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., argued that Oregon's planning system has revitalized every Portland neighborhood and attracted a younger and more diverse population.

He told the group that 1960s-style development was propelled by regulations that mandated large lots and separated housing from shops and services.

"We found the 'Ozzie and Harriet' version of the American dream was not the result of invisible forces of the market," he said. It "was the result of massive government engineering."



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