2011 Finalist
State of Oregon
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

Oregon's Statewide Land Use Program was created in 1974, when sprawl began to threaten farmlands around Oregon's cities. The program consolidates tools to conserve farm and forest lands and manages urbanization through coordinated land use, transportation, and public facility planning. The goal is to preserve Oregon's natural resources while still allowing smart urban growth and fostering sustainable communities.

State and county governments limit the uses that are allowed on these lands, consistent with the statewide land use program, to avoid conflicts with commercial farm and timber operations. In addition, the state provides property tax incentives to encourage landowners to keep their properties in farm or timber use. More recently, the state has begun incorporating other incentives such as transferable development rights to keep forest lands in active timber management.

Through these tools, the state is addressing several important public policy objectives. First, Oregon maintains a relatively high level of production of food and timber from its rural lands, providing ongoing employment in rural communities, and preserving local food and agricultural sources for the state's residents. Second, the state has avoided the sprawl that has occurred in other parts of the country, holding transportation and service costs down. Finally, by keeping lands in timber and farm production, the state minimizes the environmental effects of development.

Oregon’s program directs most of the state's population and employment growth into urban areas. Each city has an urban growth boundary, and all urban uses must occur within that boundary. The program requires that comprehensive plans from cities and counties include transportation system plans and public facility plans that assure coordinated, efficient, and timely provision of services while reducing reliance on cars. As a result, since 2000, Oregon has been a leader in the nation in its decline in per capita vehicle miles of travel per year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and realizing household and federal, state, and local government savings through reduced transportation costs. The state and local urban growth management program also fosters sustainable communities by creating a framework for areas to create their own unique mix of housing, employment, service, and recreational opportunities. As a result, Oregon continues to have vibrant communities that draw new residents and brings new opportunities to the state.

In a recent study analyzing the period between 1990 and 2000, it was found that person-for-person, new development in metropolitan Portland consumed less than half as much land as the average city in the study. Other metrics demonstrate the effectiveness of Oregon’s growth management program: each new person moving into the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area uses 480 square yards of space while each person moving into the Portland metro area uses only 120 square yards of space. And, of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, only two — New York and San Francisco — have a higher proportion of regional employment than Portland within three miles of the central business district.

Elements of Oregon's land use program have been adopted around the country. Washington State’s Growth Management Act replicates aspects of Oregon's program, and other communities including Minneapolis and Miami-Dade County have adopted urban growth boundaries.

Mr. Jim Rue
Acting Director
Oregon Department of Land Conservation
635 Capitol Street NE
Salem, OR 97301-2540
Phone: (503) 373-0050, Extension 280
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: http://www.lcd.state.or.us