Published In


Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2006


Urban renewal -- Oregon -- Portland Metropolitan Area, Regional planning -- Oregon -- Portland Metropolitan Area, City planning -- Oregon -- Portland, Rural renewal -- Oregon -- Portland Metropolitan Area, Suburbs -- Planning -- Oregon -- Portland


The term “urban blight” conjures up images of the stereotypical devastated American inner city: drunks and drug addicts sitting against graffiti-splattered walls, decaying buildings with broken windows that nobody bothers to replace, and alleyways layered with decades of discarded liquor bottles and other debris symptomatic of poverty and hopelessness. “Urban renewal,” which federal, state and local governments have used to combat blight since middle of the 20th Century, has itself become a phrase loaded with negative connotations, because many efforts to improve “slums” only ended up aggravating poor neighborhoods’ problems with crime and economic dysfunction. “Urban blight” and “urban renewal” in the suburbs around Portland however, are drastically removed from this historical context. Unlike the large public projects in cities like Chicago, the areas being renewed are seldom blighted in the traditional sense of the word, and some aren’t even remotely urban. Beneath these lingual ironies exist real issues that the municipalities surrounding Portland must deal with. The population of the metroscape has soared. The number of Clackamas County inhabitants has quadrupled since 1950, while the largest growth has by far been in Washington County which now has eight times as many citizens as it did fifty years ago. The explosive expansion of Washington and Clackamas counties, which have greatly outpaced the growth of largely urban Multnomah County, is an indicator of how massive the rise of suburbia has been in the past half-century. This has forced the communities surrounding Portland to face two challenging questions: how can you economically take advantage of growth without succumbing to sprawl? And, can a town retain an individual identity despite an increasing populace of commuters living on almost indistinguishable swathes of suburban subdivisions?


Originally appeared in the Winter 2006 edition of Metroscape, published by the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, Portland State University.

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