In population centers of the country, urban sprawl and resource depletion are the natural consequence of increasing populations unless there are strong land use laws applied to wisely manage growth over time. In biology, an uncontrolled growth is defined as being a cancer and cities and states across the U.S. have long struggled with this ruinous disease.
Oregon is among the few states— and in particular— the Portland metro area, that have for decades effectively fought back the forces of development. Thanks to the civic minded and prescient state leaders back in the early 1970s (in particular, governor Tom McCall), the region has resisted the siren call to build, build, build.
Since the 1970’s, as Jim Johnson, land use planner for the Oregon Department of Agriculture explains in the video, 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. The UGB will have to expand outward 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.
Jim Johnson explains 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 separates 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 Saudi 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– Washington County
Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (LCDC)