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Chapter 6: Planning—The evolution of planning practice in Portland

This section describes ways that planning practice has contributed to Portland’s changing landscape and highlights public’s attitudes about the future of planning.

Portland Planning

In 1978, as Portland was crafting its first Comp Plan, it forwarded three land use concepts for community input. The following alternative forwarded new ideas about growth management to the public and was described this way:

High density apartment and commercial uses would be promoted at centers and along corridors supporting an electric transit system that would provide clean, quiet, transit services… Land outside the centers and corridors would continue to be used predominantly for single family housing… Most of the money available for public facilities… would be used to replace or improve existing facilities along the corridors.

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Portland’s current Comp Plan Map builds upon that early thinking. However, in its current form the Comp Plan Map more closely reflects existing zoning patterns, rather than an overall planning or growth concept to guide Portland’s future.

[Click on map to enlarge or download]

Regional Planning

Metro formed in 1979 and in 1995, the Region 2040 Growth Concept was adopted to guide growth within the region. Like Portland’s Comp Plan proposal from 1978, the concept lays out a hierarchy of mixed use areas where growth is to be targeted, with an emphasis on areas that can be well-served by transit. With its adoption, this diagram became the organizing planning diagram for the region.

[Click on map to enlarge or download]

Neighborhood Planning

While growth management strategies emerged at the city and regional scale, Portland planning practice and neighborhood activism were fundamentally linked. The Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill neighborhood had the first adopted neighborhood plan in the 1970s. The Central City Plan, adopted in 1988, built upon the Downtown Plan of the 1970s and kicked off a community planning program that continued for a decade. The late 1990s saw a shift to more focused area plans.

[Click on map to enlarge or download]

Land Use and Transportation

The philosophy underlying local planning efforts is the importance of connecting land use and transportation planning. At the state, regional and local level this has meant prioritizing transportation funding to use infrastructure dollars more efficiently, reduce auto dependence and improve livability. As a result, funding has shifted from highway construction, to transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

[Click on map to enlarge or download]

While transportation investment was focused on areas that benefit the greatest number of people, some Portland neighborhoods had substandard streets lacking sidewalks, paving or even gravel. These streets are generally in neighborhoods developed after the 1940s, or in areas that have hilly terrain or were annexed into the City of Portland in the past few decades.

[Click on map to enlarge or download]

Design and Infill

Attitudes about growth management are often colored by people’s perceptions about the compatibility of new development with the height, scale and design of existing buildings. The Portland Zoning Code addresses design through development standards that apply throughout the city, such as the Base Zone Design Standards, as well as design requirements that apply to specific areas. Currently design review and design districts apply to a small proportion of the city.

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Planning and Public Opinion

In 1982, Ballot Measure 6 called for the limitation of the power of the Department of Land Conservation and Development. The measure failed statewide. In Multnomah County, voters rejected the measure by a margin of 2 to 1, with only 6% of precincts passing the measure.

In 2004, Measure 37 passed, enacting a law requiring government compensation for land use regulations that negatively affected property values. While the measure failed in the city of Portland overall, it passed in precincts in north and outer east Portland neighborhoods.

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Metro-sponsored research on public attitudes about planning suggests a more complex response to planning issues than is evident by the Measure 37 voting patterns. Metro research found that 61% of respondents supported planning for growth. Respondents placed the highest priorities on protecting rivers and streams, protecting air quality, preserving farm and forest land, and protecting exiting neighborhoods. Seventy-six percent said that planning preserves the value of their homes. At the same time, 46% said land use regulations hurt too many property owners. And Metro residents were split as to whether land use regulations should or will affect property rights. 



  • To what degree should planning practice build on the policy initiatives and priorities of the past or shape new planning approaches for the future?
  • Should the Metro 2040 Growth Concept serve as the overarching planning and urban design framework for the city or should the Comp Plan provide a diagram tailored to Portland’s specific conditions and aspirations?
  • How should planning practice respond to public attitudes about planning and property rights?


  • Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
  • Metro
  • Portland Bureau of Transportation
  • Multnomah County Elections
  • Davis, Hibbitts & Midghal