First Advisor

Martha Works

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography




Single family housing -- Oregon -- Washington County, Housing development -- Oregon -- Washington County, Land subdivision -- Oregon -- Washington County



Physical Description

1 online resource (115 p.)


The United States' suburban landscape has historically been characterized by low-density residential development. This pattern was shaped by the abundance of developable land in nineteenth century America, and by the emergence of a suburban ideal which romanticized the concept of a spacious home set in a private, garden setting. For many homebuyers, the realization of the suburban ideal was made possible by continual improvements in intraurban transportation. The commuter rail, the electric streetcar, and ultimately the automobile increased the commuting range of inner-city workers, and contributed to the continual expansion of development on the periphery of cities. In recent years, economic and population pressures have contributed to accelerated housing costs in many metropolitan areas, necessitating a redefining of the traditional suburban ideal. Rising land costs have prompted developers to build single-family homes at increasingly higher densities. Developers now face the challenge of designing and implementing development strategies which maximize land use efficiency, and yet still retain some of the "garden setting" ambiance of the traditional suburban ideal. This study traces the historical evolution of residential densities in Washington County, through review of 2235 Washington County plat maps dating from 1870 to 1992. The data reveals a slow growth, low-density development prior to World War II, and a high-growth and increasingly higher-density pattern of development in the post-World War II period. Since 1980, high-density suburban developments have become an increasingly common feature of the Washington County landscape. Examination of the spatial distribution of these subdivisions suggests a strong correlation between high-density development and land scarcity. Comparison of the different types of high-density subdivisions found in Washington County reveals how common-space developments allow for more effective integration with the natural environment. The future of subdivision development in Washington County, hinges upon the results of Metro's Region 2040 study. The Region 2040 study will ultimately recommend the extent that the urban growth boundary should be expanded, and thus will directly affect the availability of developable land The amount, type, ownership, and zoning of these "urban reserves" will be important considerations for future subdivision development in Washington County.


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