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The Road to Damascus
How do you avoid the rush to urban sprawl when Portland, Oregon, relaxes its fabled no-growth boundary? A recent charrette provides one answer.
By Randy Gragg

With tall buttes and wandering streams seemingly lifted out of a Chinese brush painting, the exurban Portland, Oregon, district known as Damascus seems an unlikely candidate to become a future city of more than 100,000. Though traffic counts on the main highway top 20,000 cars a day, the closest thing to a town center are two medium-box stores and a strip mall, and even those are still on septic tanks. Yet, if the Metropolitan Regional Government of Portland has its way, the 25 square miles comprising Damascus will soon become the largest chunk of the biggest addition ever made to Portland's famed urban growth boundary (UGB).

Among the 50 states, the UGB is a phenomenon unique to Oregon. Unlike the incentive-based "smart growth" policies in place in a few states, Oregon's UGB is a European-style mandate that says "No subdivisions, office parks, shopping malls—in fact, no development at all—beyond this line." In the 22 years since it was established, previous additions to the boundary have totaled a mere 6,000 acres. So the Damascus addition marks a dramatic shift in policy. But as proved by a recent charrette on the future of Damascus led by landscape architect and University of British Columbia professor Patrick Condon, a profound redrawing of the boundary may be the only way to actually make it work.

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