Suburban sprawl seems to happen by default in many places. A subdivision pops up, a new
road is built, a strip-mall opens. This leads many people to believe that sprawl is
inevitable. But this is false -- we can manage sprawl by better planning our future
States and communities can choose to grow on their own terms and at their own pace. And
places like these are often more economically successful, environmentally sound and nicer
to live in than areas that sprawl without limit.
Some states have discovered a powerful tool to control sprawl: land-use planning. Sound
planning can help communities grow efficiently by encouraging development where
infrastructure -- like roads, schools and water treatment facilities -- already exists.
This type of planning helps keep city centers alive and established communities vital. The
best planning efforts also steer development away from wildlife habitat, wetlands and
other crucial natural resources.
In our analysis, we often found that the top states have been using these planning
tools to deal with growth for decades -- tools that the laggard states haven't even put on
In this category, we used three main measurements to determine our rankings: (1)
whether states had growth-management laws to guide new development; (2) how strong a role
states played in requiring, reviewing and assisting with local communities' land-use
plans; and (3) whether and how well states used implementation tools, such as urban-growth
boundaries, public participation requirements, impact fees and regional coordination
Almost 30 years ago, Oregon took the simple but radical step of requiring all of its
cities and towns to develop land-use plans. Soon after, the state created
"Metro," a regional planning council that coordinates land-use and
transportation planning in the three-county region that includes Portland.
The state has attracted a bevy of high-tech businesses; downtown Portland, once
underused, has become a thriving community. The area surrounding the city, served by an
excellent light-rail system, has managed to escape paralyzing traffic congestion.
Where Oregon once lost 30,000 acres of agricultural land a year, it is now losing only
2,000 acres a year. And, 20 minutes from the heart of downtown, green space and natural
beauty are abundant.
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
- South Carolina
- New York
- South Dakota
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
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