The bark and bite of growth boundaries

With the recent release by Metro Vancouver (GVRD) of the draft 2040 Regional Growth Strategy, some are noticing conspicuous similarities to the policy tools of another northwestern metropolis.  In the South Fraser Blog, Nathan Pachal appropriately identifies the resemblance of the GVRD’s reshaped initiatives to those of Portland Metro (Portland). 

Portland has long been lauded (and, in some circles, jeered) for its strong measures to combat sprawl and manage growth.  I posted a video last month from the Big Look Task Force last that gives a good background on Oregon’s strong land-use regulations.  In Portland’s case, the regional government has control over the well-documented Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).  In his post, Pachal correctly states that the Green Zone of the Livable Region Strategic Plan constituted a de facto growth boundary in the Lower Mainland.  Building upon this, the new 2040 plan creates a formal boundary by replacing the Green Zone with a firm Urban Containment Boundary (UCB) and new zones for agriculture, conservation/recreation and rural designation…very similar to Portland’s land-use.  There are, however, a few policy differences.

The Oregon state legislature requires that Portland’s UGB maintain a 20-year stock of developable land, so the boundary moves outward over time.  The GVRD, on the other hand, has fixed its boundary to encompass anticipated development areas through 2040, at which point municipalities will be faced with growing upward rather than outward.

What the 2040 strategy, specifically the UCB, will mean for the Lower Mainland remains to be seen.  Though the new plan may cast the GVRD in the same light as Portland’s regional planning regime, it’s critical to remember the different contextual realities that animate policy.  Most glaringly, Portland has a very strong regional government with significant land-use authority granted by the State of Oregon, while the GVRD simply doesn’t compare in terms of statutory power.  Should a Lower Mainland municipality violate the UCB, the Region’s only recourse would be to withhold services (water, sewer, etc.), in which case the Province might intervene.  Unlike Oregon, British Columbia has not been eager to carve larger authority for the GVRD and could insist that services be extended beyond the UCB, thus invalidating regional plans.  Then again, a Provincial decision supporting the GVRD’s power to withhold services could breed a strong policy tool for the future.

Of course, maybe all GVRD member municipalities will honor the UCB and the Province will never have to get involved at all.

Stay tuned…

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One Response to “The bark and bite of growth boundaries”

  1. Daniella said:

    Mar 16, 09 at 2:25 pm

    Looks like we can look forward to property values rising!?!