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Defending smart growth

Throughout the last few decades, Portland has become famous forwhat is known as smart growth development, a term that refers tosuch varied topics as land-use, urban growth boundaries, transitand housing development.

Ethan Seltzer, director of urban studies at Portland State,feels that smart growth is really about “paying attention to thedetails.” That, he says, will make a difference with thecommunity.

Seltzer stood up for Portland’s smart growth in an interviewwith the Vanguard, following last week’s Preserving the AmericanDream conference, held here in Portland.

There, as reported in various news outlets, critics railedagainst smart growth, especially singling out the high-densitydevelopment along public-transit lines, as well as the use of lightrail.

Seltzer pointed out the irony in this criticism, stating thatthe Preserving the American Dream Coalition actually used lightrail as part of its advertising when promoting the conference.

Smart growth is about communities planning for their future,Seltzer said. Rather than doing this, the critics “want to moveforward blindly,” he said. “They are people,” he added, “thatsimply disagree with planning.”

The idea behind smart growth began before the term was evencoined. Seltzer notes the statewide impact of the Oregon Land Useprogram in 1973, the beginning to urban growth boundaries, and theconsiderable shift in city planning with the founding of thePortland Development Commission in 1958.

Without the regulations on urban growth boundaries, all of thearea between Portland and Salem would have been completely “filledup with urban sprawl,” estimated Nohad Toulan, dean of the Collegeof Urban and Public Affairs, in an interview.

“Smart growth is a shorthand way of expressing that the detailsmatter,” he said. Such details include the pedestrian environment,transit, housing, and even maintaining the local agriculturalcommunity.

Seltzer claims that critics like those at the conference ignorethe vast amounts of data collected over the years, which prove theeffectiveness of smart growth.

“They need to get their facts together,” Toulan mentioned. “Thesystem we have is more efficient for everybody.”

Jennifer Dill, an associate professor in the College of Urbanand Public Affairs, has done research on smart growth, comparingPortland to other regions of similar population. Her research shows”that Portland is doing well compared to other regions.”

She has looked at a variety of issues, including trafficcongestion and bicycle patterns, and concluded that “something isworking.”

Portland’s success is also noted, Seltzer said, as “we continueto sprawl out into the suburbs.”

“What we’ve done here over the last 30 years,” he added, “iscreate a place where people actually want to be.”