Urban Growth Boundary for Chinese cities?

In the past year, planning field in China has been busy discussing how to control urban growth. One question stands out for investigation is, shall we set up the urban growth boundary for each city? What follows, is their interests in Portland, one of a few cities in US that has a UGB and well managed for 40+ years.  Several cities in China have shown interests in learning from Portland UGB experiences.

Lloyd Meyer, whose family living in a piece of land farming for many generations, had a different perspective when their land recently been converted to Urban Reserves. Here is what he thinks when a city increase the boundary to promote growth:


Image Source: Cornell University Masters Thesis, May 2012 – Beyond Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary: Towards an Integrated Landscape Network of Urban & Rural Land Use (URL: http://cargocollective.com/benhedstrom/Beyond-Portland-s-Urban-Growth-Boundary) 

…the population within what is known as The Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) in the Portland Oregon area is approximately 1.5 million people.  This region too has experienced exponential growth during the last 40 years, in large part due to the arrival of large high tech firms such as Intel and Tektronics.  The original intent of Metro’s land use planning was to establish zones where industrial development may be located and where agricultural lands could be protected and enhanced.  Looking back over the last forty years, such planning has led to remarkable economic growth, especially in the areas of high tech.

Beginning in 1979, Metro established the concept of the Urban Growth Boundary.  Within this boundary is where development, i.e. residential (which includes both single family and multifamily housing), commercial or industrial, is to occur.

Lands within the Urban Growth Boundary are already designated for development and such development is governed by the laws and regulations of the local jurisdictions located within the UGB.

Outside the UGB but still within the Tri County Area and under the planning purview of Metro, land has been designated for either future development (Urban Reserves) under certain conditions or set aside for 50 years (Rural Reserves) before any development can take place.

It is within the areas of Urban Reserves where the issues of what type of growth and development should occur and at what pace.  Metro does not pre determine the growth but rather does its best to forecast such growth so that governmental agencies in turn can work provide services in anticipation for such growth.  Designating lands for Urban Reserves has been done in an open and transparent process but has not been free from controversy.

Lands, once designated as Urban Reserves, are not automatically subject to immediate development.  Certain issues need to considered and addressed prior to development occurring within these Urban Reserves.  Such existential issues include determining the societal value of preserving land for agricultural use versus providing additional lands for homes and businesses to meet the need of a growing population.  Built in to the whole planning philosophy of Oregon’s Land Use Planning Laws is the concept that the general public has a say into how these land use and development decisions are made, since such decisions directly affect them and their future and children’s future. Individual property owners still maintain certain rights to use their land as they choose.   However, the inexorable pressure of market forces may lead to development of lands that are best maintained as rural in character.

Care too should be taken to understand the global implications to local land use planning decisions.  As farmland is converted to residences and apartments, the effect that has on a region’s food supply should be considered.   Similarly, if manufacturing/industrial zones are kept out of the region because of concern about their deleterious environmental impacts, the long-term implications of where such products are ultimately produced should be considered.  For example, the environmental impacts of such decisions may be simply transferred to other countries.

As well, High Tech growth, with its concomitant elevation of the region’s standard of living, does not necessarily guarantee the agricultural self-sufficiency of the region or the planet’s overall environmental wellbeing.  Extra care and a deliberate preference need to be given to insure that a system and culture of agriculture is to be maintained so that it can flourish in the midst of expanding populations as well as within a thriving industrial region that is supporting jobs and the region’s tax base.  As the people of the Metro area strive to rationally plan for its economic and environmental future, market forces should be tamed so as to insure that generations to come have access to a well rounded economy, one that is compatible to agriculture, industry and environmental livability alike.

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