"Smart Growth" and "New Urbanism" Compared with "Large Lot Zoning" (Tom Lane) [ Home Page – Click Here]

(May 17, 2017) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2017 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.

UPDATED: Upzoning and Infilling Within Urban Growth Boundaries

Post is under construction,last updated 11/2/2010

Above: Smart Growth High Density Townhomes in Sammamish, Washington, 30 miles east of Seattle


UPDATED Oct. 8, 2010: BEND BULLETIN MEDIA BIAS:  The Bend Bulletin newspaper on Oct. 8, 2010 refused to publish the following on-line comment on urban growth boundaries.  Is there anything wrong with my comment?

This comment serves as an introduction to this post on urban growth boundaries.  It’s virtually a carbon copy of stuff I’ve published on other on-line newspapers:

There are lots of us waiting to escape huge metro areas, waiting to see what will happen in Oregon and other states with smart growth and urban growth boundaries.  Oregon has excessive restrictions on growth, timber, and natural gas pipelines, and due to high unemployment in rural counties, about all one can do is tellecommute from these areas if they move there.

Research indicates that Urban Growth Boundaries decrease the supply of buildable land, raising its value (given constant or increasing demand).  Then, housing prices at first increase, and then crash, leading to unemployment, demoralization, and depopulation.

The best studies on urban growth boundaries are from Professors at top academic institutions. For example:
1. Dr. Theo Eicher, University of Washington: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2004181704_eicher14.html
2. Another site for Theo Eicherhttp://depts.washington.edu/teclass/landuse/
3. Dr. Richard Morrill, University of Washington:  Myths and Facts about Growth Management (1991 classic article): http://depts.washington.edu/teclass/landuse/myths_and_facts.pdf
4. Dr. Joe Gyourko, Wharton School of Real Estate, University of Pennsylvania: http://real.wharton.upenn.edu/~gyourko/index.htm
5. Dr. Joe Gyourko and Dr. Ed Glaeser of Harvard on Zoning’s Steep Price: http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv25n3/v25n3-7.pdf
6. Dr. Haifang Huang, University of Alberta: http://ideas.repec.org/p/ris/albaec/2010_011.html
And many others, as summarized in the reference sections of these and other papers.

While UGB’s were originally well intentioned in preserving open space, the original conceptualization of an urban growth boundary formulated in the 1970’s should be abandoned, in favor of more sustainable approaches to conservation.

Indeed, the most effective strategies involve beautification and encourage birds and wildlife, such as, in your area (and, to my understanding, Bend is already doing some of this):

1. Require contractors to retain native Ponderosa Pine and Juniper trees during construction (such as at Northwest Crossing).

2. Require that landscapers use native plants, instead of non-native species such as Red Maples, and native pines and junipers, instead of their horticultural equivalents.

3. Prohibit landscapers from using gravelscaping, barkscaping, and stonescaping, and require either turfgrass, ornamental grasses, or ground covers.

4. Work with philanthropic volunteer groups such as COTA (Central Oregon Trails Alliance) and the IMBA (international Mountain Biking Association) to increase the amount of mountain bike and other types of trails.

5. Raise taxes on soda, bottled water, and junk food to buy open space in close proximity to residential neighborhoods. In Scottsdale, they raised taxes for the McDowell mountain land trust.

6. Establish community gardens in conjunction with wildflower gardens to encourage birds and butterflies.

Overall, most solutions to making things green will come from Landscape Architects, Urban Planners, Horticulturalists, and Mountain Bikers, as they (we) are artistic types who understand what looks nice, and what will sell.  Environmentalists are not necessarily driven by an aesthetic agenda, and instead, are worried about their own left-brained quantitative agenda of smart growth principles, such as upzoning, infilling, carbon credits, and urban growth boundaries.

Bend is truly one of the most attractive tourist/retiree/college/singles towns on the west coast, and this is due to talented planners and architects, and perhaps most importantly, density is not excessive, like in Boulder and parts of Portland and Seattle.

Overall, due to fundamental philosophical differences, perhaps a peaceful solution would be for Richard Whitman to become the Willamette Valley’s land chief, with two additional land czars for Eastern Oregon and the State of Jefferson.


Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB’s) are a “smart growth principle” to contain “sprawl” into the city, with smaller residential and commercial parcels inside, and larger properties (including farms) outside.  UGB’s are essential to many statewide and City growth management acts, in an effort by urban planners to control “sprawl.”

Upzoning involves increasing density to accommodate smaller lot sizes or multi-use housing, such as mixed use smart growth condos with stores on the first floor (photos below).

In the Seattle-Tacoma metro, agricultural and forest lands are blocked from development with UGB’s. Vision 2040, the region’s master plan from the Puget Sound Regional Council, provides this pdf map of regional growth centers centered around mass transit, and urban growth boundaries, in 2040.

The Smith Brothers Dairy in Kent probably next to an UGB:

Smith Brothers Dairy in Kent, Washington (near Seattle) probably is next to an urban growth boundary, in the Green River Valley.

Nearby is Creeksaide, a smart growth development with very small lots and inappropriately wide streets:

Creekside, development of High density residential in Kent, Wa. near the Urban Growth Boundary. Ridiculously small lots and wide streets. No privacy, no lawn for the kids, no birds or butterflies.

Here’s the street along the Urban Growth Boundary just south of Creekside. Note how the north side of the street has been “improved,” with a sidewalk and wider lane. Not shown are older homes on larger properties, farms, and the Green River:

Urban Growth Boundary between Creekside (wooden fence) and agricultural land.

Here’s an overview of high density Creekside, along with Mt. Rainier and the Cascade Mountains in the distance, at sunset. The park is known as the Amphitheater. Note the red barn as part of the agricultural land.

With infilling and upzoning inside urban growth boundaries, growth concentrates withing city limits, density and traffic increase.  And, urban growth boundaries decrease the supply of buildable land, increasing its value.  As a result, prices increase, causing housing bubbles.

Most readers of this blog are very familiar, and probably despise, examples of towering condos coming to their cities.  Currently, the “trend” among urban planners is “mixed use” condos, based on the principles of another trend, “smart growth.”  Residential areas now feature multi-story attached townhomes with no yards, as shown in posts all over this blog.

Mixed use commercial/residential properties feature stores on the ground level, with condos on the upper levels.

The opposition to mixed use infilling is mostly from families, who prefer the American dream of homes with yards.  While young singles may prefer living near the downtown entertainment scene while in college, they (we) eventually move to the suburbs.

Here are examples of Upzoning in Eugene, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, both smart growth meccas. The first photo in Eugene features the 4 story “Indigo” complex next to an old Victorian home. The second features an older 3 story apartment next to a newer 4 story complex. Did they increase the height allowance at some point?  The Seattle photos are in the Green Lake neighborhood.  All photos, to me, are ugly, edgy, imposing buildings that don’t fit the character of the original neighborhoods.

Upzoning: Indigo Apartment Facility next to an Old Victorian Home in Eugene, Oregon.

Older apartment next to newer facilities as upzoning continues in Eugene near the University of Oregon campus. Go Ducks!

Upzoning in the Green Lake area in Seattle. 3 and 4 story homes / apartments. Ugly and

Looking south towards Green Lake. More upzoning. Edgy, unattractive, out of character with Seattle's original charm.

No Rational for Controlling Sprawl with Smart Growth, according to controversial popular author Randal O’Toole, Famous Dartmouth Economist Dr. William Fischel, and Famous USC Planner Dr. Peter Gordon

There is no rationale for controlling “sprawl.”  Randal O’Toole writes that 95% of the U.S. is rural open space.  You can download data for the amount of open space in your state here:  http://americandreamcoalition.org/penalty.html Randal O’Toole writes:

“Nearly 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas that cover just 2.6 percent of the land. Nearly 95 percent of the United States remains as rural open space. Government actions that drive up housing prices in order to preserve such an abundant resources are a tragic misplacement of priorities.”

Find out much of your state has been urbanized and how much rural open space is left.  Download an open space spreadsheet (excel) showing what percentage of each state that has been urbanized or developed in any way and what percentage remains as rural open space. This is based on two different sources of data, the 1997 Natural Resources Inventory and the 2000 census. More information about these data is available in the discussion of open space data in the Journalists’ Guide to the American Dream.”

So there’s plenty of land for large lots, and we really don’t need urban growth boundaries or urban renewal districts (i.e. mixed-use, high density areas).

Dr. Peter Gordon and Dr. Harry W. Richardson of USC discuss the abundance of US land in their article “Are Compact Cities a Desirable Planning Goal?”   They mention Dartmouth’s Dr. William Fischel, who found that even if every American household was on an acre (with four persons per residence), only 3% of the entire US would be occupied, even when Alaska and Hawaii are excluded!

Dr. Fischel discusses this in his book “The Economics of Zoning Laws: A Property Rights Approach to American Land Use Controls.”  A free google preview of his calculations is found on pages 1 and 2 at this link:


That’s the good news for those of us coming from the landscaping and birdwatching side of this debate.  We want plenty of land to develop large homes with lush landscaping with native plants and wildlife.  Of course, when large native trees and shrubs are preserved during construction, there is significantly less precipitation runoff, less need for irrigation, less wind, less temperature extremes, decreased heating and cooling costs, etc.  This is much greener than the clearcutting of native vegetation for smart growth townhomes and associated gravelscaping.


Your Grandma Better Stop Driving in Smart Growth!

She only has twelve feet (see my tape measure on this clogged street in Seattle). Not much room to pass cyclists or other cars. With upzoning, single family dwellings support multiple occupants. Streets that formerly had cars on just one side, now have cars on both sides. So your Grandma better stop driving. And if you have migraines with tunnel vision, then so should you. And both you and your grandma should go enjoy Vegas or Phoenix, where the streets must be at least 50-60 feet wide. Finally, if you’re a cyclist, note that Seattle is increasingly not bike friendly.  Maybe it’s safer on Kemper Freeman’s wide streets in Bellevue.

Twelve feet makes it a one way road, doesn't it?




Unsightly Ugly Ubiquitous Towering Condos

under construction add green lake photos

There are many unsightly examples of unnecessary towering condos, attached townhomes, and mixed use on this web site.  Saffron, below, is a mixed use complex in the middle of nowhere (in the bedroom community of  Sammamish, 30 miles east of Seattle), featuring expensive apartments (rents start at $800, up to $1700), ground level shoppes, and a 2 story bicycle shop.

The first photo shows a typical smart growth condo street view, with no street trees, and very little separation from the sidewalk.  It’s very intimidating to walk by these private residences, even on the sidewalk.

The second photo shows a parking lot with small, expensive shoppes including Coldstone Creamery and the 2 story bike shop.  It’s equally intimidating to drive into the parking lot, knowing that the upper floors are private residences.

Saffron Apartments in a mixed use area in Sammammish, Washington (near Seattle).

Saffron Parking Lot, Shoppes, Condos, and Bike Shop (foreground).

These smart growth towers in Redmond, Washington (about 20 miles east of downtown Seattle) are horrible.  They are along the forthcoming Redmond mass-transit area, with more photos at this post.

Ugly Smart Growth Towers in Redmond, Washington (Seattle Metro).

And, of course, the familiar scene of tall skinny homes on tiny lots with no lawn for the  kids.  The streets are too wide, causing a heat island and increasing air conditioning costs.  Skateboarders on the sidewalk ruin your evening, as you eat in your dining room just a few feet from the street.  This is in Phoenix:

Tall Skinny Smart Growth Homes in Phoenix, no yards, no privacy.

The Burien Renewal District failed (near Seattle), and these condos may foreclose by September 1, 2010 due to low demand. Who would want to live next to an empty parking lot with piles of broken concrete?

This is an example of why allowing people the choice of where they want to live (i.e. demand) should ultimately determine what types of housing the builders’ decide to construct (i.e. supply).  Peter Gordon and Harry Richardson, in the above referenced article, refer to the centralized planning of  housing as: “top down, command and control planning, rather than the expression of individual preferences.

Burien Renewal District:

Burien Renewal District (near Seattle) may foreclose by September 1, 2010.

Even the Issaquah Highlands feature imposing, towering condos above street level very expensive restaurants and other establishments intended for “the rich.” However, there isn’t even a grocery store in the entire development, forcing cars to drive several miles through open space (polluting it) to the City of Issaquah:

Towering Condos above street level shops and restaurants at Issaquah Highlands near Seattle.

The landscape is essentially a patchwork of “old meets new.” Of course, density increases, leading to more air pollution, traffic, drugs, and crime.

Driving north on I-99 from Woodland Park (Seattle) to Lynnwood, you can see alternating examples of condos and traditional neighborhoods. It’s not very attractive. And, it’s not good for the upzoned existing homes. An old Victorian home on a 1/10th acre lot could be sold for nearly a million dollars. A developer could build several $300,000 condos in a 4 story building on that lot and make a fortune. Same thing in Boulder, Albuquerque, and in many other areas where aesthetic and safety concerns are not on the agenda of the City Council.

Dr. Daniel Warner of Western Washington University discusses “upzoning” in an insightful article at this .pdf link.  As a very passionate environmentalist, he thinks that no growth is better than “smart growth”   Most of us who are designers and architects who still like grow love his perspectives on smart growth, in addition to the Libertarian ones offered elsewhere.

Below is a street near the Tacoma Mall in Tacoma, Washington (near Seattle). On one side, older homes and nice shade trees. On the other, a towering, imposing, ugly, smart growth complex with apartments and condos, entitled “Apex.” Click here to view more photos.

A formerly nice residential street, still nice and green on one side, with a towering smart growth complex on the other.

Welcome home, oh really? I'd rather live on the green side of the street!

Approach the tall doors of the foyer of yet another smart growth tower, and be greeted with the usual yuppie marketing hype of tanning salons and European saunas, all for $750+ per month (CLICK to enlarge photo to read about the your forthcoming luxurious experience).


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