Interview with "Reframing the Urban Growth Debate" Speaker Eben Fodor

LANDWATCH HOSTS TALK IN BEND ON ‘CALMING GROWTH’

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

Published May 13, 2015 

The city of Bend’s population is projected to keep growing, but the process of acquiring land to fit everybody in isn’t particularly straightforward.

The city’s physical growth is hemmed in by the urban growth boundary, a line beyond which the state restricts traditional development, such as new neighborhoods and shopping centers. In 2010, the state rejected Bend’s bid to expand its boundary to accommodate growth through 2028, claiming, in part, that the city requested too much land. Bend is now at it again, with a renewed emphasis on proposing redevelopment within the existing boundary as a means of needing less land in an expansion.

Eben Fodor, a Eugene-based community planner, thinks that’s a good start. Fodor will give a talk tonight titled “Reframing the Urban Growth Debate,” where he will talk about some of the advantages that come with keeping a city small and compact. The event is hosted by Central Oregon LandWatch, a nonprofit involved in the boundary expansion process that advocates for conservation (See “If you go”).

“The reason the debate needs to be reframed is because we’ve been talking about it for the same way for decades,” Fodor said in an interview last week. “In most cities, they encourage all the growth they can possibly get and use every tool to get as much growth as possible. That’s a pretty distant extreme, and I think there are good reasons to pursue growth calming.”

Fodor has identified what he calls the “myths of growth,” including the idea that growing provides more jobs for people in the community.

“I’m very sympathetic with the need for people to have jobs, but the data doesn’t support the idea that growth is improving employment conditions,” he said. “In faster-growing communities, we tend to have higher unemployment rates, and people make less money per capita than in slower growing communities.”

There are upsides to growth, Fodor noted, including its ability to create a more diverse community. However, Fodor argues growth can also lead to uniformity, saying, “You see the Wendy’s, Pier One Imports and what every other town has as we become more of the same-ville.”

In Bend, the argument has been made that the city needs to grow to lower the cost of housing and to increase the supply of rental properties, which are currently hard to come by, as the vacancy rate hovers around 1 percent.

Fodor said land availability isn’t the key issue with combating rising housing costs, as inexpensive housing tends to be multifamily and compact.

“It’s a big, complex topic, and it tends to emerge in desirable areas, because housing price is related to demand, which is a function of the desirability of a community,” Fodor said. “If you want cheap housing, you can look to undesirable things and there they will be. But no one wants to create an undesirable community.

“You have to look at what you can actually control. You cannot solve the growth pressure, but you control how you grow.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com