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Portland's crystal ball

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Jodi Peterson | May 06, 2009 12:35 PM

For three decades, Oregon has been a leader among Western states with its progressive planning for growth. Now the city of Portland is looking into the future, staking out land for farms and homes for the coming decades.

After the state passed landmark land-use planning rules in 1973, Portland decided to protect the open space and farmland surrounding the city, and restricted urban development to a 22-square-mile block. A backlash against similarly strict land regulations began building across the state, and in 2004, citizens passed Measure 37, which  loosened urban growth boundaries and strengthened property rights. Alarmed by the development anarchy unleashed by Measure 37, residents passed Measure 49 in

 2007, which scales back many of Measure 37's most harmful provisions. With land-use laws restored, Portland is again looking to get a handle on its future -- another million residents are expected in the area by 2030. Across three counties, local governments are now designating, for the next 40 or 50 years, "urban reserves" where development is allowed and "rural reserves" for farms, open space and forests. It's the first time the state has tried such planning on a regional scale.

Many of those reserves are designated for urban developments, which means the area's farmers may be pushed out. Lyle Spiesschaert, who grows grass seed, corn, and hay, thinks he sees the writing on the wall. OregonLive reports:

None of Spiesschaert's crops are sold locally -- that's even true of his corn, which goes to Japan. He believes commodity farming such as he does now, with big plots of land and big equipment, is on its way out.

"Here I am, right next door," he says, gesturing to the housing development, "and I don't grow anything these people consume. If I were feeding them, they'd probably defend it more."

But Spiesschaert and other Portland-area farmers might look to the nearby Willamette Valley, where big conventional farms are slowly converting to growing organic beans and grains -- commodities meant for local consumption (see our just-published story called "From Grass to Grains"). All those new residents have to eat -- and having local wheat for their bread and pancakes would help save farmland, cut pollution, and strengthen community.

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