Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A response to my WA-OR sprawl post: urban growth boundaries aren't necessarily enough

Brock Howell, King County Program Director, for Futurewise (the group was formerly named "1000 Friends of Washington" and is a smart growth advocacy group) writes:

Your recent blog post doesn't mention that Washington State also has a state land use system and requires the setting of urban growth areas set based on 20-year population projections.

Oregon is fairly lenient when it comes to setting the boundaries (although both states could be better in this regard). Washington falls short in the allowable density in rural areas and agricultural resource lands (max 1du/5ac or 1du/10).

Most of the sprawl over the last two decades in Clark County hasn't been in contradiction of WA's GMA. It's been in the rural area.

Consider the Columbia River Crossing project. The EIS basically says that there will be no sprawl in Clark County because they have a UGA and rural/resource land protections. What the EIS fails to mention is that the expanded bridge would induce more development of Clark County rural lands.

The CRC is a project that Metro has control over. It's unfortunate that the Metro council isn't thinking about the sustainability for the whole region, even though they clearly could, and would actually be of economic benefit to Portland.

Also, I don't think its fair to pick on this recent location if the investment firm to Camas. I bet if it located in Hillsboro, Beaverton, or Gresham or even Salem or Corvallis you wouldn't find cause to decry the move.

All these other places, I would assume you'd reason in part, are within a UGB. But so too is the new project in Camas. In fact, like many of the Portland suburbs, it was home to many tech jobs during the dot com bubble, so its not anything special to have a major employer in Camas.

You can pick on tax policies, but probaby not regional UGB coordination.

My response, besides recommending that people watch episodes #2 and #3 from the web program "Vancouvria", which is a parody of "Portlandia" and the Portland suburbs, is this:

Well, I should have said that an urban growth boundary isn't enough in and of itself to prevent sprawl, because plenty of land development that occurs within a growth boundary may not be "smart" because it still ends up being the perhaps unnecessary development of "greenfield" property that had been undeveloped.
Note that the same point can be made about cities. Just because a development is in a city doesn't necessarily mean that it is created with sustainable transportation and land use planning precepts, or is appropriately urban. I call this "intra-city sprawl." A couple examples are how DC Government moves agencies to new locations around the city to places that require "more" travel to get there, and induce more trips by car or how the "Upper 14th Street" revitalization plan calls for more commercial development in an under-dense area, in a location only served by buses, when the corridor is just a few blocks from Georgia Avenue, which has more than 1 million of underutilized square feet of commercially-zoned property and yet another million or so new square feet of commercial development coming to the Walter Reed site. But there are many more examples everywhere, including those discussed in this book, The Suburbanization of New York: Is the world's greatest city becoming just another town?

I didn't mention in the entry that for a time I worked in the planning office for Baltimore County, Maryland, which is one of the first places in the U.S. to have enacted a UGB, in 1967.

As someone aligned with the smart growth movement and ideal, I'd say that most of the county's policies (despite some good ones, and not necessarily what the plans say should occur) are focused on "growth" in Owings Mills and White Marsh, which for the most part isn't necessary, even though it's within what they call the URDL ("urban rural demarcation line"), because there are plenty of intensification opportunities in already developed areas of the county that aren't as far out as Owings Mills or White Marsh. (I wrote about this with regard to Owings Mills as an example of why Maryland needs a state land use plan like PlanMaryland here, "State vs. local control over land use: Maryland edition" and "What the State of Maryland still doesn't get about smart growth.")

The URDL keeps development within the line for the most part and outside of the rural area (they control development by not providing access to "city" water "outside" the URDL--the water system is run by Baltimore City in association with the county)--although the line changes when the Growth Machine demands it (e.g., development triggered by McCormick Spice's move to Hunt Valley in the late 1980s).

So you're right, just because development is within the URDL (or within an urban growth boundary) doesn't mean it's "smart."

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