Oregon Cities Grow More, Expand Less than National Average

Dave Garlock, 1000 Friends Communication Intern
Thu, 04/05/2012 (All day)

An aerial view of the Urban Growth Boundary in Cornelius, OregonAmerican cities are growing rapidly, and across much of the country this has meant further sprawl. But a look at the most recent U.S. Census data reveals that Oregon’s cities, despite slightly higher population growth than the national average, saw less than half the average expansion.

Not only are more people moving to US cities, but the cities themselves are expanding, adding thousands of square miles to the country’s urban areas. This is the focus of “America’s Growing Urban Footprint,” by Nate Berg, from the blog Atlantic Cities.

Using data released by the Census Bureau, Berg finds that Atlanta, Georgia has expanded the most between 2000 and 2010, having added nearly 683 square miles to its urban area. For comparison, the Portland metro region covers 524 square miles, while the City of Medford covers about 22 square miles. Thus, the Atlanta area added about 1.3 Portland regions or 31 Medfords to its total area, although it added population equivalent to a bit more than half of the Portland region’s population or 15 of Medford's.

In terms of percentage growth, The Woodlands, Texas, was the national sprawl leader, having expanded an incredible 219.76 percent in the decade. Altogether, twenty-nine urban areas saw increases of 100 square miles or more, and 76 saw increases of 50 square miles or more.

"The suburbs are just growing outward," says Kevin Hawley, a geographer at the Census Bureau in the Atlantic Cities article. "That seems to be the case in most of the larger areas."

Across the 497 largest urban areas in the country, the average population growth was 19.38%, with an average percentage growth in area of 22.38%.

But it’s a different story in Oregon. Using the same data, we found that Oregon cities haven’t been expanding as much as cities in other states.  In the eight Oregon urban areas on the list (Portland [including Vancouver], Eugene-Springfield, Salem-Keizer, Medford-Ashland, Bend, Corvallis, Albany, and Grants Pass), total population growth was slightly higher than the national urban average, at 20.55%. However, total percentage growth in area was around half the national average: only 11.76%.  Oregon’s urban areas have thus grown more than the average American city, while sprawling half as much.

When cities expand, they take the place of past land uses, like farming, forests, and natural areas. And once they are gone, they’re gone for good. That’s why 1000 Friends of Oregon works hard to limit the over-expansion of Oregon’s cities by encouraging careful planning and effective use of tools like strong urban growth boundaries and accurate population forecasts.  

Oregon’s land use planning program provides the framework and the potential to keep our cities from sprawling needlessly.  Instead, Oregon communities set the bar for creating vibrant, livable and healthy Cool Communities by focusing investments in existing neighborhoods, and limiting expansion onto irreplaceable farm and forest lands, which are crucial for healthy rural economies.

According to this data, Oregon’s urban areas are indeed expanding significantly less quickly than those in the rest of nation, even as more people come to call Oregon home. It’s a success to celebrate, and a commitment to renew, every time we look toward the future of our communities.

Photo credit: Sam Beebe, Ecotrust. Used under Creative Commons License 2.0.