The Oregon Approach
October 5th, 2000 by Tim Evans
- Oregon has statewide zoning for farmland (16.4 million acres) and private forest land (8.7 million acres). This zoning protects about 40,000 square miles from development – an area about the size of Indiana. New Jersey has no farm or forest zoning.
- In contrast to the millions of acres it protects from development, Oregon has set aside 1.6 million acres (about 2.6 percent of its land) for urban and rural residential development and commerce. Oregon’s population growth is nearly identical to New Jersey’s.
- Oregon voters have rejected three attempts to repeal their growth management laws. Despite limitations on new development, Portland remains one of the most affordable cities in the western United States, with an average home price of $166,000 compared to $213,000 in Seattle, $226,000 in San Diego, $448,000 in San Jose, and $510,000 in San Francisco. (Source: 1,000 Friends of Oregon and National Association of Homebuilders)
New Jerseyans have asked repeatedly in polls and in voting booths for better protection of our open spaces. One of the best ways to achieve “smarter” growth is with smarter planning, and perhaps no one does this better than Oregon.
Oregon raised eyebrows nationwide 27 years ago when it decided to fight suburban sprawl by setting specific, mandatory state goals for saving open spaces and existing communities. Without adopting a statewide plan, Oregon instead required every city and every county to prepare or amend its own comprehensive plan to satisfy all applicable statewide planning goals. This included establishing stringent new forest and farm zoning to protect these spaces, and requiring every municipality to set an urban growth boundary with a 10-20 year supply of land for containing new growth. It also requires state and local transportation plans to reduce time Oregonians spend in cars by specific percentages; and it prohibits exclusionary zoning by requiring every community to offer all types of housing: apartments, multi-family, affordable housing.
The result? Portland used only 3 percent of its surrounding land for growth between 1980-94, while just across the Columbia River in Clark County metropolitan growth gobbled 46 percent of the remaining land. While cities like Newark and Camden declined in the mid-1970s through mid-1990s, Portland saw its downtown employment nearly double; today, its downtown remains a lively and thriving place, even on weeknights and weekends.
New Jersey’s State Plan shares Oregon’s vision of stronger communities, reduced costs for families and businesses, and increased choice about where and how we live. The State Plan also can be used as a springboard toward smarter growth with these five steps:
- Base state spending and regulatory decisions on the Plan’s smart-growth principles;
- Defend municipalities from challenges to their zoning when zoning conforms to the State Plan;
- Provide opportunities and incentives for municipalities to cooperate in planning and land use;
- Make redevelopment of existing communities easier than greenfield development through upfront site preparation and infrastructure spending; and
- Give municipalities a new planning tool kit that includes transfer of development rights information, model ordinances and education.
New Jersey Future is developing a policy guide offering additional detail.
Next: Part II – Smarter Growth through Tax Sharing, Step 6, and Part III – Smarter Growth through Better Affordable Housing, Step 7
Do you have comments or questions about these Facts and Issues? Contact us directly:
B. Tim Evans, NJF Research Director,