I know a lot of Ricochet readers are long-suffering residents of liberal bastions where it often seems as if everyone around them has collectively lost their minds. As someone who originally hails from Oregon, all the recent hype praising Portland as America's civic ideal finally sent me over the edge. I've written a long story about the cultural and political degeneration of the city for The Weekly Standard that I hope serves as a cautionary tale. Given that it's the favorite city of urban planners and New York Times travel writers, the Obama administration and progressive politicians across the country want to turn your town into the next Portland. And that should be avoided at all costs if you value the most basic indicators of livability such as affordable housing:
The rush to praise Portland’s smart-growth policies has been strangely unimpeded by their results. Oregon’s urban growth boundary is defended from criticism as if it were the Maginot Line of American environmentalism, but, tellingly, its supporters don’t even pretend it makes for prudent economic policy. Rather, it’s just one of those things that make Portland’s culture so darn special. A 2010 article in Good magazine—a publication of environmentalist bent, chiefly notable for employing Albert Gore III—described it this way:
Along with creating dense neighborhoods, encouraging mass-transit use, and irritating free-market zealots, the growth boundary saves farmland close to the city. The resulting proximity between country and town defines life here. Portland is a small-to-medium city with a frequently dismal economy, a single major sports team that hasn’t won a championship in 30 years, and world-class access to premium local produce. Ambitious small restaurants crowd the city, bedazzling visiting food critics from New York; some Portlanders follow the local pinot noir harvest the way people in Greenwich, Connecticut, track hedge funds. None of this could exist without the boundary.
Portland is indeed surrounded by thousands of square miles of prized Willamette Valley farmland, and a glance at a map will tell you that there’s a long way to go before sprawl is a major concern. Of course, you’re a free market zealot if you oppose the growth boundary, even though it might have something to do with Portland’s “frequently dismal” economy, because—well, have you tasted the arugula? It’s world-class.
If you want to credit the growth boundary with preserving the state’s farmland, then you should also have to defend the havoc it’s wreaked inside the city. In 2010, consultant Wendell Cox did a quick survey of the urban growth boundary’s effect on property values in Portland. “The land adjacent to, but outside, the urban growth boundary (on which development is prohibited) was assessed at approximately $16,000 per acre,” he concluded. “The land adjacent to, but inside, the urban growth boundary (on which development is permitted) was assessed at approximately $180,000 per acre, approximately 11 times the price of land that is virtually across the street.” Tough luck for Portland’s homebuyers.
But there's much more than that! To entice you to read the whole thing I'll just mention that the story has lots of salacious political scandals, a discussion of the the television show Portlandia, vegan strip clubs, and liberal America's fascination with light rail is finally explained.