“Sprawl” is one of the ugliest words in the American political lexicon. Virtually no one wants America’s rural landscapes, farmland, and natural areas to be lost to bland, placeless malls, freeways, and subdivisions. Yet few of America’s fast-growing rural areas have effective rules to limit or contain sprawl.
Oregon is one of the nation’s most celebrated exceptions. In the early 1970s Oregon established the nation’s first and only comprehensive statewide system of land-use planning and largely succeeded in confining residential and commercial growth to urban areas while preserving the state’s rural farmland, forests, and natural areas. Despite repeated political attacks, the state’s planning system remained essentially politically unscathed for three decades. In the early- and mid-2000s, however, the Oregon public appeared disenchanted, voting repeatedly in favor of statewide ballot initiatives that undermined the ability of the state to regulate growth. One of America’s most celebrated “success stories” in the war against sprawl appeared to crumble, inspiring property rights activists in numerous other western states to launch copycat ballot initiatives against land-use regulation.
This is the first book to tell the story of Oregon’s unique land-use planning system from its rise in the early 1970s to its near-death experience in the first decade of the 2000s. Using participant observation and extensive original interviews with key figures on both sides of the state’s land use wars past and present, this book examines the question of how and why a planning system that was once the nation’s most visible and successful example of a comprehensive regulatory approach to preventing runaway sprawl nearly collapsed.
Planning Paradise is tough love for Oregon planning. While admiring much of what the state’s planning system has accomplished, Walker and Hurley believe that scholars, professionals, activists, and citizens engaged in the battle against sprawl would be well advised to think long and deeply about the lessons that the recent struggles of one of America’s most celebrated planning systems may hold for the future of land-use planning in Oregon and beyond.
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