Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Portland model stinks

Everyone says that Portland, Oregon is the 'best' city because it is 'planned' using 'smart growth' techniques, however the 'smart growth' that Portland has achieved has come at an incredible price:  massive bills for choo choos that a smaller and smaller proportion of all commuters ride, absolutely chaotic traffic for a city as small as it is and one of the lowest cost of living adjusted standards of living among major American urban areas.  It turns out that the cargo cult of no building on plains, trains and no new roads for automobiles is a recipe for a not particularly dense city that is remarkably poor.  Attaboy Portland, that's some "Smart Growth" you've got there.  Other cities who are thinking of getting "Smart" like Minneapolis St. Paul should pause before they crash their burgs in the name of this latest great urban cargo cult.  Wendell Cox of Demographia explains in this piece:

Ms. Bosker suggests that China may be poised to follow the "Portland model." A planner is quoted: “Portland is a really great model.” That, I would suggest, depends on your perspective.
The Portland model has its philosophical roots in the British Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. As early as 1973, Sir Peter Hall and his colleagues characterized the Act having had the "reverse effect" an important policy goal, to benefit less affluent households, by virtue of the house price escalation that ensued.
Portland has drawn an urban growth boundary around the city beyond which development is generally prohibited, and within which there is insufficient space to maintain competitive land prices. Portland has also has sought to attract people out of their cars by both building an extensive light rail system and  (being) loath to provide new highway capacity to meet demand.
After more than 30 years of its urban containment ("smart growth") policy, Portland's urban density remains at only 1,350 per square kilometer (3,500 per square mile), less than one-quarter that of China's cities with more than 500,000 population (5,750 per square kilometer/14,900 per square mile). Los Angeles is twice as dense as Portland. Portland's urban density is closer to that of the world's most sprawling large urban area, Atlanta, than it is to that of Los Angeles. Planning whipping boy Houston is only 15 percent less dense than Portland.

And here's the brilliant outcome of Portland's 'transit strategy':

Portland is no model to copy, unless all you care about is inputs (like light rail and not building freeways and suburban housing). The outputs tell a completely different story. In 1980 (the last data before the first light rail line was opened) 65.1 percent of commuters drove alone to work. By 2012, that figure had increased to 70.8 percent. Transit was down from 8.4 percent to 6.0 percent. Approximately one-quarter as many people worked at home as commuted by transit in 1980 (2.2 percent). By 2012, more people in the Portland metropolitan area worked at home than rode transit (6.4 percent).
This is not surprising. Portland's "model" transit system (now with five light rail lines) can get the average commuter to only 8 percent of the jobs in 45 minutes. This is not very attractive in contrast to travel by automobiles, which provides access to virtually 100 percent of the jobs in less time (30 minutes).
Meanwhile, Portland's anti-highway policies have been rewarded with some of the most rapidly increasing traffic congestion in the United States. In the early 1980s, Portland ranked 47th worst out of the 101 US urban areas ranked by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. By 2011, Portland's traffic congestion had deteriorated to sixth worst, a stunning failure for a city with a population that doesn't even rank the top 20. Meanwhile, Houston, castigated for its wide freeways, has improved from the worst traffic congestion in the middle 1980s to four positions better than Portland (10th), despite adding having added three times as many new residents as Portland.
Oddly it is the American cities that haven't been 'smart' about their growth that have delivered the outcomes that people who come to cities want.  Again from Cox:  
If outputs are more important than inputs (which I suggest is true), then US cities do very well. They have the highest incomes in the world, occupying 36 of the top 50 positions in gross domestic product per capita. They have some of the most affordable housing in the world, if cities following the Portland model are excluded. They have shorter work trip commutes and less traffic congestion than their peers in other high income world nations. And, they are poised for huge progress in environmental protection. The US Department of Energy forecasts large reductions in gross greenhouse gas emission from the national automobile fleet in the coming decades.
Overwhelmingly, the growth of cities happened because rural residents sought higher standards of living and an escape from lower incomes and poverty, in rural areas. Few, if any moved to cities for wise urban planning, for "soulful financial districts" or to commute by light rail. Overall, US city outputs correspond very well with the purpose of cities --- which is why they attracted residents.
But "Smart Growth" city outputs correspond very well with the purpose of planners, politicians and the developers who fund them:  to maximize their power and the value of the favored developer's property.
As you'll note, the high cost of living in Portland (almost all due to high housing costs) results in Portland having the 43rd out of 50 highest median adjusted annual wage: as bad as NYC and almost as poor as massive poverty standouts LA or San Diego. This contrasts with faster growing and equally trendy Austin where the cost of living is 90% of the national average and real median wages are more than 25% higher than in Portland.
Cities that are being pitched this ludicrous cargo cultish mixture of superstition and stupidity should consider very carefully whether they really want to hand power over their children's standards of living to unaccountable bureaucrats and divert billions of dollars from road construction to white elephant trains that with every passing year will transport a smaller and smaller share of all commuters at greater and greater costs.  I mean unless you like to be bullied and impoverished by bureaucrats.

No comments:

Post a Comment