Sustainable Cities™

Portland: Considerate growth

Although only 5% of the world's population lives in the United States, it is today responsible for 45% of the world's transport-related carbon emissions. In Portland, Oregon, the City Council has launched what it calls its Smart Growth strategy, with a vision of producing the city's carbon emissions to 80% below 1990 levels before 2050. This goal will be achieved by reducing the number of kilometres driven by car (Vehicle Miles of Travel - VMT), building areas of dense housing with local facilities and creating good public transport.

Sommeraften i Portland, foto af StuSeeger juni 2006, Flickr Creative Commons

Portland is a pioneer when it comes to anticipating climate change. With the regional authority Metro at the helm, politicians and planners have for the last 30 years been working to control the city's growth and to increase the density of building within the city limits. Known as Smart Growth, this strategy involves urban and transport planning which strives to achieve concentrated urban growth. The object is to create compact neighbourhoods with different types of homes, shops, workplaces, schools, favourable traffic conditions, as well as pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly streets.

Portland has been working on a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) strategy which involves maximising access to public transport in neighbourhoods which have a combination of housing and commercial activities. By means of greater urban density the city's planners are endeavouring to reduce VMT figures by regulating citizens' day-to-day patterns of movement.

The extended public transport system facilitates getting from home to work to shopping facilities without using a car. Within the city limits they have for example Light Rail trains, trams and a transport zone in the city centre (Fairless Square) within which bus and train travel is free. In addition, Portland has done a lot to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists by expanding the infrastructure for vulnerable  road users. Public investments in mobility and infrastructure are supplemented by NGOs like the Community Citing Center, which provides free bicycles for low income citizens, as well as training in cycle repair and road safety.


TriMet, courtesy of Jacob Brostoff

The citizens of Portland have supported the idea of fewer cars in the city. Already in the early 1970s, grassroots organisations protested against a planned motorway, the Mount Hood Freeway. They won local support and the freeway was not built. The protests continued when the next planned motorway was to be built. Although the motorway was built, it had cycle tracks and accommodated buses. Today the stretch is part of the Light Rail system. No major highways have been built in Portland since the early 1980s and the taxpayers' money has instead been used on improving public transport.

In Portland's densely built-up areas a reduction has been measured of 20-40% in the number of VMT per person. If all Americans could reduce their VMT by the same rate, nation-wide transport-related carbon emissions could be reduced by 7-10%. This is the equivalent of all Americans who currently drive an ordinary car swapping it for a hybrid car. 

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014