A Tale of Two Cities: Portland, Oregon and Atlanta, Georgia.
From Smart Growth America’s brochure, Americans Want Smarter Growth Here’s How to get there.


A Tale of Two Cities
(mid-1980s to mid-1990s)

Population Growth +26% +32%
Job Growth +43% +37%
Income +72% +60%
Government Revenue +34% +56%
Property Tax -29% +22%
Vehicle Miles Traveled +2% +17%
Single Occupant Vehicle -13% +15%
Commute Time -9% +1%
Air Quality in Ozone Days -86% +5%
Energy Consumption per Capita -8% +11%
Neighborhood Quality +19% -11%
Source: Arthur C. Nelson, “Effects of Urban Containment on Housing Prices and Landowner Behavior,” Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Land Lines, May 2000.

A recent study by Professor Arthur C. Nelson of the Georgia Institute of Technology presents hard evidence for the quality of life benefits of smart growth by comparing Portland, Oregon with Atlanta, Georgia.

Portland has invested in public transportation and has controlled sprawl by maintaining a band of open space around the metro area. During the same period, the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Atlanta built highways and developed land faster than any other area in the country.

As shown in the chart, both metro areas experienced rapid population and job growth, but commute times in Portland actually declined 9 percent, while in Atlanta commutes lengthened by 1 percent despite an aggressive and costly freeway widening program. Air quality problems, measured by number of “ozone alert” days, declined 86 percent in Portland while they rose by 5 percent in Atlanta. Perhaps most importantly, Portland residents surveyed noted that the quality of their neighborhoods improved by 19 percent while Atlantans responded that the quality of their communities declined by 11 percent. These results are consistent with public perceptions of livability in each area. Portland is widely regarded as the American city that best exemplifies smart growth. Real estate industry analysts recognize this in a recent report, noting that “Portland has growth controls, which investors increasingly covet, and excellent quality-of-life perceptions.”

Atlanta, on the other hand, has now been dubbed “Sprawl City,” beset by problems ranging form geographically severe racial segregation, air pollution, and the longest average commute in America. In fact, large corporations such as Hewlett Packard have passed over the region as a potential site for new facilities. Hopefully, these perceptions will someday be a thing of the past for Atlanta. Faced with severe federal penalties for unhealthy air quality in Atlanta, Georgia Governor Roy Barnes in 1999 formed a regional transportation authority to expand public transit and ensure that transportation and development plans comply with the Clean Air Act. Regional leaders then created a Livable Centers Initiative that steers planning and implementation funds to existing cities and town centers that support additional compact development without significantly increasing demand for new roadways.