The Review of Austrian Economics, 17:2/3, 203–212, 2004.
2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Manufactured in The Netherlands.
APortlander’s View of Smart Growth
RANDAL O’TOOLE email@example.com
The Thoreau Institute
Abstract. Metro, a regional planning authority, has written and implemented the nation’s strongest and most
comprehensive smart-growth plan in Portland, Oregon. For a region expected to grow in population by 80 percent
in the next ﬁve decades, Metro’s plan calls for a mere 6 percent expansion of land area; high-density housing in the
form of apartments, mixed-use developments, and single-family homes on small lots; pedestrian-friendly design
codes; 125 miles of rail transit; and almost no new highway construction.
Though smart-growth advocates promise their policies will reduce congestion, clean the air, provide affordable
housing, protect open space, and reduce urban-service costs, Metro’s plan does the opposite of all these things.
Metro planners predict its plan will quadruple the time Portlanders waste sitting in trafﬁc by 2020 and increase
smog by 10 percent. The artiﬁcial land shortage posed by the urban-growth boundary has already turned Portland
from one of the nation’s most affordable housing markets to one of the ten least affordable ones. The plan’s demand
for inﬁll development is sacriﬁcing valuable urban open space to protect abundant rural open space. Rail transit
and high-density developments both require huge subsidies.
Portlanders initially supported Metro’s efforts because they were told that planning would save Portland from
becoming like Los Angeles, the nation’s most congested and polluted urban area. In fact, Los Angeles is also the
nation’s densest urban area and has the fewest miles of freeway per capita, making it the epitome of smart growth.
This actually led Metro to conclude that its goal is to “replicate” Los Angeles’ development patterns in Portland.
The result is that Portland-area residents are increasingly hostile to Metro’s plans.
KeyWords: urban planning, urban growth, rail transit, Portland, Oregon
JEL classiﬁcation: O18, O21
From all over the United States people come to my hometown of Portland, Oregon, to
learn the wonders of smart-growth planning. City planners ooh and ah over the urban-
growth boundary, mayors and other elected ofﬁcials gape at the billion-dollar light-rail
line, reporters and writers marvel at the pedestrian-friendly design and transit-oriented
All of these people see Portland as tourists. But as urban sociologist Herbert Gans points
out, the needs of tourists are very different from those of residents (Gans 1961). While
tourists seek exotic and visually exciting places, residents want efﬁcient access to important
urban services such as stores, schools, and jobs.
From the residents’ point of view, Portland’s smart-growth plan is a nightmare. The re-
gion’s congestion is rapidly growing, homeownership is out of the reach of most residents
who do not already own homes, and urban open space is being replaced by inﬁll devel-
opment. Far from saving taxpayer dollars, local governments have to raise taxes or reduce
urban services to pay for planners’ transit and housing dreams.