IF CITIES CAN’T REGULATE URBAN GROWTH, WHO CAN? A RESEARCH PROPOSAL

In both Canada and the United States, we have largely left urban growth issues to local governments, and many local governments have failed to manage them. Many will never succeed because local councils are not, in general, able effectively to resist development interests.
As a result, the growth of our cities is, in practice, primarily responsive to the interests of developers. These interests are frequently at odds with the considerations that bear on preservation of the environment, maintenance of agriculture, an efficient infrastructure network and a transportation system that serves the population as a whole.
Therefore, in a series of posts on the multi-level governance of land use I’ve argued that:
• In urban growth policy, unlike many other policy domains, too much local control is a recipe for bad policy.


• This applies to major metropolitan areas and semi-rural, urbanizing communities alike.
• The reduction of local control over urban growth – in other words, centralization of power – is entirely justifiable because urban growth is every bit as much a national and global issue as it is a local one.
If local governments can’t control land use, the only alternative is a meaningful degree of land use regulation at another level of government. Despite a lot of loose talk in the literature about sprawl being a global phenomenon, Europe has, in general, been more successful at land use planning than North America, and, as I argued in the first of this series of posts, a major reason is that national land use regulations lay down rules that are not as easily revoked by the political clout of developers.
Centralized land use regulation along the lines of the British Planning Policy Guidance Notes and Statements, or the German Raumordnungsgesetz (see article by Andreas Schultze Baing, listed below), are not likely to be an option in North America, but there have been serious attempts at provincial or state government intervention, and this could be a reasonable substitute for European-style national planning. In addition, both senior levels of government can and do attack land use issues in a more piecemeal manner, through such measures as environmental regulations, or conditional funding of transportation facilities.
As a result of these reflections, I am hoping to fund a three-city, international comparative case study to take a closer look at the alternatives that might be available to governments wishing, at long last, to address the issue of urban growth in a serious way. The three cities I have chosen are Portland, Oregon; the Greater Toronto Area, and Hamburg. Here’s why:
Portland. The best-known, and probably most vigorously pursued, senior-government intervention in the US is that of Oregon, which is usually identified with Portland’s growth boundary, but which in fact goes well beyond the establishment of an urban growth limit line, encompassing a panoply of rules governing urban growth and development. I learned a lot about how the Oregon system works when I did a case study of the politics of growth management in Portland in 1995, but since then there’s been a lot of water under Portland’s Burnside Bridge, so it’s time for another look.
The Greater Toronto Area. In 2005, in Canada, Ontario legislated a greenbelt designed to hem in the expansion of the Greater Toronto Area, to preserve agriculture, and to conserve natural areas. In Toronto, meanwhile, a variety of measures have been undertaken to promote densification of the city; the reversal of some of the separation of residential from commercial development that has been such a troubled legacy of modernist planning; and the development of the transit system. In practice, therefore, the Greater Toronto Area is governed by a growth management regime that has much in common with Oregon’s system.
Hamburg. The European case in my three-city comparison will be Hamburg, which I have chosen because it exhibits some of the complexities that have made growth management in North American metropolitan regions complicated: multiple municipalities, sprawling across three Länder: Hamburg itself, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony.
A systematic comparison of how the growth of cities is managed, considering both political and administrative dimensions of the problem, in Europe, in the Greater Toronto Area and in Portland should make it possible to gain an overview of problems and possible solutions to them.
Specifically, the objective of my research will be a cross-national comparison of different systems of land use regulation. The topic is potentially vast, so it is very important to limit the research in such a way as to keep it manageable and truly comparative. At the same time it has to be broad enough to permit a meaningful look at the question of whether growth is being managed effectively. I propose the following research questions, one of which bears on procedure, with the other two addressing results:
1. What political and administrative steps are taken, and what rules are applied, in deciding on the location and structure of new subdivisions?
2. What is the condition of infrastructure (roads, public transportation facilities and underground municipal services) throughout the urban area?
3. How well-served by public transit is the urban area?
Answers to these questions, with all the complexities they will bring to the surface, should provide a reasonable test of the effectiveness of growth management in these three regions. At the same time they will provide insights into the political, administrative, and regulatory sources of success and failure.
••••••••••••••
A brief, useful comparison of British and German land use regulatory regimes can be found in:
Andreas Schultze Baing, “Containing Urban Sprawl? Comparing Brownfield Reuse Policies in England and Germany”. International Planning Studies 15 (1), 25–35.
The article in which I originally argued that centralized city planning reduces the clout of developers is:
Christopher Leo, “City Politics in an Era of Globalization.” In Mickey Lauria, ed. Reconstructing Urban Regime Theory: Regulating Local Government in a Global Economy. Sage, 1997, 77-98.
The major publication recording the results of my 1995 research in Portland, Oregon, was:
ResearchBlogging.org
LEO, C. (1998). REGIONAL GROWTH MANAGEMENT REGIME: The Case of Portland, Oregon Journal of Urban Affairs, 20 (4), 363-394 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9906.1998.tb00428.x
Here are some other articles I have published on multi-level governance:
Christopher Leo, “Deep Federalism: Respecting Community Difference in National Policy”. Canadian Journal of Political Science 39:3, 2006, 481-506.
Christopher Leo and Katie Anderson, “Being Realistic about Urban Growth.” Journal of Urban Affairs. 28:2, 2006, 169-89.
Christopher Leo and Martine August, “National Policy and Community Initiative: Mismanaging Homelessness in a Slow Growth City.” Canadian Journal of Urban Research 15 (1) (supplement) 2006, pp. 1-21.
Christopher Leo and Mike Pyl, “Multi-level Governance: Getting the Job Done and Respecting Community Difference.” Canadian Political Science Review, 1 (2) 2007, September. Accessable at http://ojs.unbc.ca/index.php/cpsr/issue/view/2/showToc.
Christopher Leo and Todd Andres, “Unbundling Sovereignty in Winnipeg: Federalism through Local Initiative.” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 41 (1) 2008, pp. 93-117.
Christopher Leo and Martine August, “The Multi-Level Governance of Immigration and Settlement: Making Deep Federalism Work.” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 42 (2), 2009, pp. 491-510.
Christopher Leo and Jeremy Enns, “Multi-level governance and ideological rigidity: The failure of deep federalism. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 42 (1), 2009.
Richard Lennon and Christopher Leo, “Metropolitan Growth and Municipal Boundaries: Problems and Proposed Solutions.” International Journal of Canadian Studies, 24 (Fall), 2001, 77-104.
Christopher Leo and Wilson Brown, “Slow Growth and Urban Development Policy.” Journal of Urban Affairs, 22 (2), 2000, 193-213.
Christopher Leo, with Mary Ann Beavis, Andrew Carver and Robyne Turner, “Is Urban Sprawl Back on the Political Agenda? Local Growth Control, Regional Growth Management and Politics.” Urban Affairs Review, 34 (2) 1998, 179-212.
Christopher Leo, “Global Change and Local Politics: Economic Decline and the Local Regime in Edmonton.” Journal of Urban Affairs, 17 (3), 1995, 277-99.
Christopher Leo and Robert Fenton, “‘Mediated Enforcement’ and the Evolution of the State: Development Corporations in Canadian City Centres”. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 14 (2) 1990, 185-206.

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