Friday, October 19, 2007

O'Toole on Debunking Portland

Randal O'Toole (Cato Institute) has posted Debunking Portland: The City that Doesn't Work on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

Though many people consider Portland, Oregon, a model of 21st-century urban planning, the region's integrated land-use and transportation plans have greatly reduced the area's livability. To halt urban sprawl and reduce people's dependence on the automobile, Portland's plans use an urban-growth boundary to greatly increase the area's population density, spend most of the region's transportation funds on various rail transit projects, and promote construction of scores of high-density, mixed-use developments.

When judged by the results rather than the intentions, the costs of Portland's planning far outweigh the benefits. Planners made housing unaffordable to force more people to live in multifamily housing or in homes on tiny lots. They allowed congestion to increase to near-gridlock levels to force more people to ride the region's expensive rail transit lines. They diverted billions of dollars of taxes from schools, fire, public health, and other essential services to subsidize the construction of transit and high-density housing projects.

Those high costs have not produced the utopia planners promised. Far from curbing sprawl, high housing prices led tens of thousands of families to move to Vancouver, Washington, and other cities outside the region's authority. Far from reducing driving, rail transit has actually reduced the share of travel using transit from what it was in 1980. And developers have found that so-called transit-oriented developments only work when they include plenty of parking.

Portland-area residents have expressed their opposition to these plans by voting against light rail and density and voting for a property-rights measure that allows landowners to claim either compensation or waivers for land-use rules passed since they purchased their property. Opposition turned to anger when a 2004 scandal revealed that an insider network known as the light-rail mafia had manipulated the planning process to direct rail construction contracts and urban-renewal subsidies to themselves.

These problems are all the predictable result of a process that gives a few people enormous power over an entire urban area. Portland should dismantle its planning programs, and other cities that want to maintain their livability would do well to study Portland as an example of how not to plan.

Ben Barros

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The problem with Mr. O'Toole's "scholarship" is that many of his assertions lack cited authority and, in some instances, when the cited authority is provided and followed, how that authority supports the statement is unclear.

It is much more akin to an Op-Ed piece which certainy has value in the national dialogue on these key issue but should not presented as something beyond that.

Posted by: Chad Emerson | Oct 19, 2007 7:47:49 AM

If you want to see how wrong O'Toole is, just go visit Portland. It's turning into a charming and interesting city.

Does it have problems? Is there government overreaching? Of course. But that is irrelevant -- the traditional suburban strip-mall suburbs also have problems and government overreaching,

By and large Portland is basically doing the right things.

Posted by: Dave Sucher | Oct 19, 2007 9:37:51 AM

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