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The Planet

Land-use planning

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 growth.

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 the books.

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 requirements.

Oregon

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.

State Ranking:

  1. Oregon       
  2. Vermont
  3. Maryland   
  4. Georgia       
  5. Washington
  6. Tennessee   
  7. Maine
  8. Hawaii       
  9. California   
  10. Rhode Island   
  11. Florida       
  12. Idaho       
  13. New Hampshire   
  14. Minnesota   
  15. Delaware
  16. Kentucky
  17. New Jersey   
  18. Nevada       
  19. Massachusetts   
  20. Alaska       
  21. Arizona       
  22. Indiana       
  23. New Mexico
  24. Pennsylvania   
  25. West Virginia   
  26. Illinois       
  27. Wisconsin
  28. Virginia       
  29. Colorado
  30. Louisiana
  31. Mississippi
  32. Arkansas
  33. Iowa
  34. Nebraska   
  35. South Carolina   
  36. Montana
  37. Texas       
  38. New York   
  39. Missouri       
  40. Oklahoma   
  41. South Dakota   
  42. Alabama
  43. Kansas       
  44. Connecticut   
  45. Utah   
  46. Ohio   
  47. North Carolina   
  48. North Dakota   
  49. Michigan
  50. Wyoming


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