In the late ’70s, Oregon embarked on a strategy to limit urban sprawl and became the first state to adopt an aggressive “Smart Growth” methodology of zoning. Its goals were exemplary but failed to anticipate that the most “efficient” way to populate the cities was directly opposed to the way that people actually wanted to live. They regretfully learned that in spite of best intentions, residents did not want to give up their cars and backyards. Thirty years after the fact, planners have realized such restrictive zoning rules have spawned a cornucopia of problems. These are laid out in [a] paper from the Thoreau Institute entitled The Folly of Smart Growth, which states in part:
“In order to achieve those goals, ‘smart growth’ governments nationwide are implementing a degree of land-use regulation that is unprecedented in the United States prior to 1990. Unfortunately, as we will see from the experiences of the Portland, Ore., area, such regulation can produce an even worse quality of life for residents. The policies’ real effects appear to be increases in traffic congestion, air pollution, consumer costs, taxes and just about every other impediment to urban livability.”
Just as damming our rivers and plowing our prairies led to unforeseen catastrophes, I believe zoning that focuses on maximum growth may also sow the seeds of future problems that cannot be undone. Just look at Branson, Mo., which has evolved into an entity that no longer resembles that original charm of the area that attracted people in the first place. Are we headed there?
As this article states, increased density in cities results in not only in higher taxes, gridlock and pollution, but a decreased quality of life for the residents — all under the guise of “stopping this terrible urban sprawl.” The recent attempt in Beaucatcher Heights to increase the density of houses per acre is an example of this inclination to overpopulate our city at the expense of the residents’ quality of life and the enrichment of developers who do not live amongst us. Due to strong neighbor dissent, the measure was denied — at least at the zoning board level. It must still be voted on by the Council — who may or may not heed the recommendation of the zoning board. At least one Council member has stated he is in favor of increasing the density of population in Asheville by rezoning away from R2 (two homes per acre) to a more dense format. He states the same reasoning that has proven to be disastrous in Oregon.
As a concerned citizen, I would ask the following questions:
1) Based on current zoning designations in the city, is there a “maximum” population determination for our city?
2) Is our current infrastructure adequate to support this eventual “maximum” number? Or do we enter the destructive cycle exhibited in Portland by letting overpopulation make demands for more roads and infrastructure that lead to higher taxes to provide those services? Do we, as Oregon, enter a cycle that cannot be stopped and diminishes quality of life for all of us?
3) Does the city government’s appetite for more tax revenue at the expense of its citizens’ quality of life lead us down a shortsighted one-way street of overdevelopment?
I don’t think there is an easy answer to how our city should be allowed to grow, but I do know that stacking us up in high-rises and crowded neighborhoods is not where to start. If our current zoning has given us that “maximum” population number, then I think the Council would be ill-advised to increase that density without considering the very real consequences. We need to try to look as far into the future as we can and determine where our current path will lead us. Oregon perhaps wishes they could go back and change that path.
City Council will set our path at the next board meeting when they vote on the Beaucatcher rezoning Tuesday, Feb. 24. Maybe let them know you don’t want to live like the stacked-up cord wood in Oregon.
— Stephen Schulte