What will become of New Jersey if we continue to allow our farmland to diminish at rates higher than any state in the nation? Currently, the Garden State is loosing more farmland than any other state to urban sprawl. In recent years developers have switched from developing forested land to developing farmland for a couple of reasons. First, forests are becoming more and more protected and, as a result, are harder to develop. This protection has the obvious and hugely important benefit of protecting New Jersey’s forests but has consequently encouraged developers to find another source of developable land; in this case, farmland. Farmland is flat, cleared land with well-drained soils making it ideal for development. Soon enough, NJ won’t have much to support its nickname, The Garden State.
How does New Jersey save its farmland? Perhaps, it can mimic the city of Portland, Oregon. In the early 70’s, Oregon was growing in population at about twice the speed of the United States as a whole. The mayor at the time, Tom McCall, being a strong environmentalist and supporter of limiting population growth and sprawl, instilled a growth management plan. One major goal of the plan was to create Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB) enclosing all Oregon cities. A UGB is meant to protect farms, forests, and natural resources from urban sprawl while promoting the efficient use of land within the boundaries.
In Portland, Urban Growth Boundaries have been hugely successful and most Portlanders support them. However, to some, these boundaries have taken away land rights from farmers. Because lands beyond these boundaries are not allowed to be developed, some Portlanders believe that the state of Oregon has striped away the value of the land and the landowner’s freedom to do what they would like with it. As one can imagine, UGBs are extremely controversial and have been at the center of many political debates within the state.
Regardless of what side of the debate you are on when it comes to Urban Growth Boundaries, one thing is certain; they have succeeded in containing sprawl. Just by looking at a picture of Portland and where the UGB has been placed, we can see a dramatic line that divides the city and the land surrounding it.
As a resident of New Jersey and one that is concerned about the amount of farmland the state has lost to development, I cannot help but wonder if Urban Growth Boundaries could help prevent further sprawl here. Obviously, UGBs would look a lot different in such a small and dense state. However, is there a way to modify UGBs so that they could work for New Jersey? Could UGBs be the key in saving our farmland and ultimately our Garden State reputation? I’m not sure I have the answers to those questions but I do know that Oregon’s UGBs have been hugely successful in the state and that alone means there is a lot that can be learned from them.
“Urban Growth Boundary.” (UGB). Metro, Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://www.oregonmetro.gov/urban-growth-boundary>.
Levy, John M. Contemporary Urban Planning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2013. Print.