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January 18, 2010; Part 2: Over the next 30 years, the Portland Metro area is projected to increase in population size by 1 million people. Since the 1970’s, the state, and in particular the Portland metro area that occupies 3 counties (Multnomah; Clackamas; and Washington), have remarkably managed their urban growth efficiently (and wisely) through the use of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) process.
Each city and county within the state as administered by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (LDLC), are required to develop an UGB within their jurisdiction; urbanization is only allowed to occur (expand) inside of this boundary area, over a 20 year horizon of time. What makes this process unique, is the level of coordination involved from the local to the state level, coordination between cities, counties, and the state that oversees (and must approve) the final process for each locale. Further, within the Portland Metro area, where the largest population center of the state resides, there is great pressure for urbanization. It is here, unlike anywhere else in the country—the UGB is also coordinated by a super agency, Metro, that exercises land use jurisdiction over the 3 counties and 20 cities that comprise this region.
What are Urban and Rural Reserves: (from Oregon Metro)
“Urban Reserves will be designated by Metro on lands currently outside the urban growth boundary that are suitable for accommodating urban development over the next 40 to 50 years. Rural Reserves will be designated by each county on lands outside the current urban growth boundary that are high value working farms and forests or have important natural features like rivers, wetlands, buttes and floodplains. These areas will be protected from urbanization for the next 40 to 50 years.”
These land use designations will provide the basis for managing future urban growth, the degree to which the current UGB may expand over the next 40-50 years, and where that expansion will occur. Land use planning is often a balancing act of competing interests, needs, and desires of a community and a region. Agricultural lands are largely in competition with industrial uses, to the degree both require large tracts of open land to operate.
As Jim Johnson, land use planner for the Oregon Department of Agriculture explains in the video, the Urban Reserves designation carries risk in the form of long-term uncertainty to farmers whose land falls under this new designation. Regardless of whether their land, or areas near their land become absorbed inside an expanding UGB line, the speculative value of their property will increase with an Urban Reserves designation (as opposed to a Rural Reserves designation), and the economic pressures of approaching urbanization will likely promote the demise of farming along these urban fringe boundaries.
Agriculture is one of the most important economic engines of the state’s economy. The soils that occupy much of the open lands under consideration for Urban Reserves designation are also among the finest agricultural soils in the state, possibly in the world. Once these areas become open to urbanization, it becomes much harder for new farmland to be used for farming, and existing farms to thrive.
Our world is changing faster than our ability to comprehend the full impact of the changes that are underfoot. Changes to the environment from the threats of climate change, of increasing water scarcity, and of environmental degradation argue for caution in our future growth plans, and an emphasis on the efficient use of land inside an established UGB lines.
The growing importance of urban agriculture to the quality of local communities, and to its future economic well-being, are issues that will likely only increase in importance over time.
The results of this Reserves Process, and how it’s able to play out over the next several decades will determine in large measure whether the Portland area preserves its unique character of small urban farms, specialty seed and crop production zones, and farmer’s markets near its urban center. What’s at stake is the local food production and local food economy of this region; the ability to meet the local needs of an additional 1 million people for food, and help feed a world outside its borders— growing ever more hungry for quality food.
What Happens Next: (from Oregon Metro)
“The Core 4 [ editor’s note: the Core 4 are the 3 counties plus Metro] completed their initial proposed regional reserves map on Dec. 16 and have released it for public consideration. In early 2010, you will have an opportunity to attend public open houses to view maps, learn about the rationale behind the boundary lines and read the intergovernmental agreements that will formally establish the reserves system. County and Metro staff and elected officials will be on hand to answer questions and you’ll have the opportunity to provide your perspective. Or you can attend a “virtual open house” on the Metro web site where you can view the same materials and answer survey questions.”
“Following this comment period, the Core 4, on behalf of their respective governments, will propose final maps and intergovernmental agreements for formal approval by the three commissions and Metro Council in February 2010. [ Editor’s note: Final maps and agreements will be forwarded to the state’s land use agency for review before final approval.” [ Editor’s note: The Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development will review the final maps and intergovernmental agreements to insure consistency with the state laws. ]