(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.
Above: Looking west towards the western half of Bend from Pilot Butte, and the three sisters mountain peaks in the distance.
(Under Construction as I organize photos.) After reading all the high rankings of Bend and the controversy over Bend’s urban growth boundary, we finally had a chance to visit. It was incredible; Bend exceeded my expectations in many ways. As advertised, Bend is truly number one among small to medium sized markets appealing to those into the outdoors, both young singles in the creative class, and baby boomer retirees. Bend has implemented many smart growth principles, although density is much less than Boulder, and streets are wider, creating a spacious landscape that extends over a larger area. Therefore, with 81,000 persons (vs. 100,000 in Boulder), Bend seems spacious with more parks and open space within its City limits compared to Boulder.
Bend winters are cloudier and drier than most Western US mountain resort/college towns. However, there is plenty of snow at higher elevations in the Cascades, including Mr. Bachelor and the Three Sisters mountain peaks (Faith, Hope, and Charity). Drier winters provide four seasons of hiking and mountain biking in the high desert, with sagebrush, junipers, and Ponderosa Pines.
Overall, it is readily apparent that the Urban Planners who originally designed Bend were not worried about establishing density approaching the astonishing levels seen in the smart growth meccas of Boulder, Portland, or Seattle. They were also not concerned about blocking big box stores or preventing outlet stores. Bend has at least two major shopping areas that trap tax tourists: the Old Mill shopping district along the Deschusets River, and the smaller outlet mall.
Unlike most smart growth developments I’ve seen, the Bend planners haven’t clearcut native Ponderosa Pines prior to development. The entire city is covered by large towering trees, even the smart growth residential and commercial areas at the Northwest Crossing development. Smart growth can only be green when native vegetation is preserved.
In addition, the City has chosen to use generously irrigated turfgrass instead of gravelscaping, stonescaping, or barkscaping. As a result, everything is surprisingly green, given the region’s high desert rain shadow location at 3700.’ We observed large birds of prey circling overhead, reminding me of Flagstaff, Arizona where native Ponderosa Pines are also preserved.
As the region continues to grow, one issue is significant traffic downtown, along the north-south US 97 bypasss, the n-s surface route for US 97, and along east-west US 20 through downtown. Perhaps a better solution would have been to route the US 97 bypass around downtown, as with the US 395 bypass around the demographically and topographically similar high desert town of Carson City, NV.
Unlike some cities with smart growth with narrow streets, Bend streets are wide in the newer smart growth areas such as Northwest Crossing. Bend has more bike
facilities than any town that I’ve visited. There appeared to be bike lanes on most major streets, along with sidepaths in some cases. In addition, what appear to be red volcanic cinders were mixed with pavement along the sides of many roads, creating bright red bike lanes, even along the US 97 bypass. Of course, bike lanes are controversial as discussed elsewhere on this web site and many cyclists don’t use them, but as a bicyclist I give the City credit for their facilitation of cycling throughout the entire City. Bend was ranked as America’s #1 Mountain Biking town by Mountain Bike Action magazine; click here for the free .pdf article.
Despite the foreclosures in Bend and 15% unemployment, I predict that Bend will recover faster than most markets. Demand for Bend has always been high, due to the City’s livability and proximity to natural amenities. Over the past 8 years, Deschusets County has grown 41% in new housing units.
Poverty is also low in the county, perhaps due to pro-business, pro-growth policies? I have seen so many other small cities who block big box stores, high tech startups, and housing developments, and the result is drugs, crime, and poverty. The poverty rate in Deschusets County is lower than the counties that surround anti-growth cities such as Flagstaff, AZ (see this map).
If you’re looking for everything in a small town, Bend is the place. There is nothing not present in Bend in terms of shopping, dining, and recreation. As Deschusets County continues to increase in population, new residents will bring their businesses with them to the suddenly cheap rents at commercial office buildings. Rich baby boomers from large coastal markets will continue to retire in Bend due to that area’s livability, contributing to the service economy, while entrepreneurs will find lower start up costs.
Here’s a tentative list of my rankings, after visiting a number of small markets appealing to both young singles into the outdoors, and baby boomers looking for natural amenities. I have listed all cities I’ve personally visited, yet I haven’t seen everything, and have only visited some areas for a few hours although I’ve read about them.
Note the absence of places in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, or on the east coast, because I haven’t been there recently. This list does not reflect my personal bias, but instead, considers:
1) economic vitality
2) prospects for future economic growth based on existing industry and human capital
3) natural amenities
4) the absence of exceptionally high density smart growth infill and heavy traffic, such as Boulder and Seattle
1. Bend, OR
2. Durango, CO
3.Ft. Collins, CO
4.Boulder, CO (Ranked high on list for reasons 1-3, of course, fails for reason 4)
6.Reno-Carson City-Lake Tahoe, CA
7. Cave Creek – Carefree – North Scottsdale, AZ
8. Apache Junction – Gold Canyon, AZ
9. Oro Valley, AZ
10. Ellensburg-Cle Elum, WA
12. Flagstaff-Sedona-Page Springs, AZ
13.Albuquerque-Santa Fe, NM
14.Mammoth Lakes-Bishop-Crowley Lake, CA
15. Ashland, OR
17.San Luis Obispo, CA
18.Santa Cruz-Monterey, CA
21.Grants Pass, OR
23.Klamath Falls, OR (Sadly, except for the tourist/young singles/baby boomer mecca of Bend, and the high tech college town of Corvallis, Oregon towns perform poorly due to declining timber and other industries.)
This is under construction and the NW Crossing smart growth development in Bend has its own separate post, at: https://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/bend-oregon-native-ponderosa-pines-preserved-before-construction-at-northwest-crossing-photo-essay/