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Oregon's Growth Boundaries: Myth and Reality

February 2002

Citation: 32 ELR 10160

Issue: 2

Author: Michael Lewyn

Introduction: The Portland Miracle

The most stringent1 anti-sprawl measure adopted by any American state is Oregon's urban growth boundary (UGB) program.2 A UGB is a line designating "areas already marked by 'urban-type' development, within which that type of development is to be channeled and encouraged, and beyond which such development is to be discouraged or forbidden."3 Thus, a UGB discourages development of new suburbs, and encourages development in older cities and suburbs.

Growth boundaries have been good for Oregon's cities. While many older American cities have been eviscerated by middle-class flight to suburbia,4 Portland (Oregon's largest city)5 has grown and prospered. From 1980 (when the Portland UGB was created)6 to 2000, the city of Portland's population grew by over 40%,7 after declining for several decades.8 Portland's population growth compared favorably to that of the central cities of the most comparable western metropolitan areas without UGBs. The metropolitan areas of Denver, Salt Lake City, and Seattle grew as fast as the Portland metropolitan area9 — yet their central cities' populations [32 ELR 10161] increased at only a 10% to 15% rate in recent decades.10 All three regions have lacked UGBs for most or all of the past two decades.11

The author is an Associate Professor at John Marshall Law School, Atlanta, Georgia.

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