the urban area. While most cities stretch
out as they grow, turning rural areas into
suburban sprawl, Oregon law as established
an urban growth boundary to control urban
expansion, and protect farms and forest that
surround Oregon’s cities.
Thanks to the urban growth boundary, a
short drive will land you in the countryside
where fresh air, trees, and farms abound.
The land within the urban growth boundary
supports the development of metropolitan infrastructures, like roads, water and
sewer systems, parks, schools, and fire and
police protections, while land outside of the
boundary is protected from urban sprawl, to
preserve the abundance of nature and local
farmers that area residents depend on.
In order to keep up with the housing
demand and preserve the farms and forest
that surround Portland, urban infill has been
utilized to optimize the use of already developed areas. Infill is an urban planning term,
defined as the use of land within a built-up
area for further construction. More specifically, abandoned lots and underutilized spaces
are converted into homes to serve the rising
demand, without taking over more land.
Portland has a reputation for urban sustain-
ability. In 1991, zoning changes were
approved by the city to redevelop existing
urban land into housing. This led to devel-
opers purchasing lots, subdividing them into
much smaller lots, and building contextually
inappropriate tract housing on those slivers of
land. (Tract housing is a type of development
in which nearly identical houses are built on
a tract of subdivided land.) The intention was
good — building more houses in the space
that existed — but the result was visually
unappealing to many neighborhood residents.
The “Living Smart” program was launched
in Portland in 2003 and ran through 2011,
in response to that rise in small lot, tract
housing. This program limited infill to
currently vacant lots and added design
requirements, ensuring that new properties
would not become an eyesore on the existing
neighborhood. This led to a dialogue
between designers and builders, and an
international competition was launched
to encourage design firms and individuals
to design houses with specifically defined,
compact parameters. Entrants were encouraged to use sustainable approaches to their
designs. Winning designs were chosen and
became models not only for Portland, but
for International urban development.
This progression of the urban growth boundaries, infill, and the Living Smart program
showcase Portland’s dedication to constantly
evolving as a sustainable, livable city.
As the city continues to grow, the urban
growth boundaries are revisited every twenty
years to assess the population growth within
the city, and adjust the boundaries if necessary.
To better manage the expansion of boundaries over time, urban and rural reserves were
created. These reserves currently exist outside
of the urban growth boundaries, but designate
land that is of high value for farms, or of high
potential for urban growth.
These reserves do not change existing zones,
but they enable better long-term planning by
predicting which land must be preserved and
which land can potentially be utilized for
urban expansion in the future.
Portland density currently hovers around
4,375 people per square mile, but thanks to
thoughtful, sustainable planning, Portland
has been able to maintain its European vibe
with friendly, accessible streets and efficient
TINY HOMES AND ADUS
As sustainable living becomes an increasingly prevalent topic in today’s society,
Portland leads the pack in many urban
sustainability movements. The tiny house
movement is no exception. Tiny houses,
also called “accessory dwelling units” or
“ADUs” were born out of a desire to limit
consumption and decrease the environmental impact of homes by building very
small houses that optimize space and reject
the idea that bigger is better.
Tiny homes are typically 200 to 800 square
feet, and they’re becoming increasingly prevalent on the Portland housing market. Not
only are Portland residents typically progressive in their sustainability efforts, the city of
Portland has made it easier than many cities
to place tiny homes on property and reside
in them or rent them out, legally.
Portland, unlike most cities, allows for the
rental of both the primary property and
an ADU built on the property, without the
owner residing in either. This is making
ADU’s a popular investment for Portland
homeowners, who can easily rent them out
while complying with the city’s zoning codes.
GREATER PORTLAND AND
Portland has plenty of variation in housing
opportunities, but attractive homes and
communities lie beyond the city limits of
Portland as well. While the city of Portland is
a highly desirable place to live with plenty of
diversity in housing options, there are home-
owners who still prefer to live further from
urbanity, with the opportunity to own bigger
homes and more land, while still remaining
close enough to work within the city.
“One of the many draws to living in Portland, is how quickly you can escape
the urban area... Thanks to the urban
growth boundary, a short drive will
land you in the countryside where fresh
air, trees, and farms abound.”