Part 1: In physics, the second law of thermodynamics, which deals with the natural flow of energy distribution, stipulates that localized “systems,” (think of an ice cube melting), will disperse outward, unless a counter force is applied to contain it. In population centers of the country, urban sprawl and resource depletion are the natural consequences of increasing populations (the melting ice cube), unless countervailing forces (land use laws) are effectively applied to manage growth, and protect finite resources. In biology, uncontrolled growth is known as cancer, and cities and states across the U.S. that have forsaken a coordinated approach toward long range urban planning, have been stricken by the effects of sprawl, to varying degrees impacting the local environment, and the quality of life for effected communities.
Oregon is among the very few states, and the Portland area, of the even fewer major metro areas, that have for decades effectively fought back the forces of development, and resisted converting ever more parcels of urban land for re-zoning to industrial and commercial use, overemployed in other places under the banner of job creation and the promise of wider economic prosperity. Since the 1970’s, growth in the Portland area has been confined within carefully crafted boundaries, the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), outside of which, urban growth was not allowed to occur.
Yet by 2040, the Portland Metro area is projected to increase in population size by 1 million residents, and the UGB will have to expand more in order to meet the demands for future jobs, housing, and roads, etc.. It is this statistic that has fueled (over the past few years) a new process, the Reserves Process, to deal with this huge anticipated growth, and that ultimately will decide the fate of open lands for future development for decades to come. The Reserves Process, underway now, and scheduled for completion the early part of this year (2010), will designate areas of land for Urban Reserve, Rural Reserve, and Undesignated Reserve, within the three county Portland Metro area: Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas. These designations will apply only to land outside the current UGB, and will form the basis for where the future UGB will be allowed to expand over time to accommodate the necessary growth for the next 40-50 year term.
CUpS sat down with Jim Johnson, land use planner for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, to discuss the Reserves Process, how the land use laws in Oregon came into being, and what they are designed to accomplish. This is part of an ongoing Food News series that will examine Oregon’s land use measures, including a more in-depth look at the Reserves Process itself, and the possible long-term impacts of these new land designations on local farms, and urban agriculture in the region.
Definitions: From the Clackamas County website Urban Overview (PDF)
- Urban Growth Boundary (UGB)—a line drawn by Metro (representing all 3 counties) with the cities and counties that seperates urban land from rural land.
- Urban Reserve—an area outside the current UGB suitable for accomodating population and job growth for the next 40-50 years. [editor note: Over this same period of time, as the UGB needs to expand, areas under this designation would be available for incorporation inside a newly established UGB line, as deemed necessary.]
- Rural Reserve—an area outside the current UGB to be preserved and protected for agricultural uses and natural resources for the next 40-50 years.
Listening to Jim Johnson, two things are abundantly clear:
- The contribution of agriculture to the State of Oregon is substantial with the Portland Metro area contributing 1/5 of the total share of agriculture production value for the entire state.
- The three counties that make up the metro area, and that are actively being examined under the Reserves Process, a good portion of this land contains among the best agricultural soils in the state, in the nation, and possibly, the world. The very types of prized soils that are increasingly vanishing around the world.
In 50 to 100 years, Johnson sees the possibility that the United States could become the next Saudia Arabia in terms of food production. The outcome of the Reserves Process may well determine how big a role Oregon actually plays in such a future.
Urban Growth Boundary
Urban and Rural Reserves in Clackamas County
Urban and Rural Reserves- Washington County
Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (LCDC)