August 10, 2009

Oregon city’s vision defies divide between urban and rural

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For years, Oregon’s land-use laws have placed protective walls between urban development and rural agriculture. But the new tiny town of Damascus on the edge of Portland may be changing the way the state defines the relationship between farms and cities, writes Eric Mortenson of The Oregonian.

In an interesting profile piece, Mortenson follows Larry Thompson, a successful and regionally-respected farmer, as he works with local growth regulators to expand the city of Damascus onto his 77-acre farm. Thompson’s vision is that the city, still in seedling form, might grow into a place where crops and community develop together.

“Oregon land use is very dichotomous,” Clackamas County Commissioner Charlotte Lehan said. “You’re either urban or rural — urban with 10 houses per acre or rural with one house per 80 acres. I’m coming to the opinion that maybe we need to recognize another kind of animal which is neither fish nor fowl.”

The views contain no highways or high-rises, and the close proximity to farms may produce a sense of food security, but critics say a lack of infrastructure, including adequate sewer, water and roads, may lead to the demise of Damascus.

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