Public Planning Potemkin Village
Letter to the Editor: The Wall Street Journal
26 December 1995
To the Editor
For all of the hype, urban sprawl is not dead in Portland (Oregon), and Bob Ortega's article (December 26) relies on erroneous data.
The US Census Bureau reports that Portland's urbanized area grew by more than 120 square miles over the last two decades --- 60 times the 2 square miles reported.
Of course, Phoenix added much more land area over the period --- it also added much more population, In fact, the average population density of new urban development in Phoenix was higher than that of Portland.
Denver's new development was at virtually the same density as Portland's. And neither of these communities have Portland's powerful regional government. Finally, air quality improvement can hardly be attributed to transit, because transit's work trip market share dropped by a third in the 1980s (when light rail was opened).
Portland's urban growth boundary was established far enough from the urban fringe that suburban development has continued as in other areas. This is not to suggest that Portland is not a delightful community. Its many advantages will doubtless continue to attract new businesses and residents (few of whom will take notice of local land use planning). The real test for Portland's planners lies ahead.
While Portland may attract city planners as an "urban mecca," the facts reveal little more than a "Potemkin village."
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