Enhancing Our Quality of Life

In the Era of Growth Management



John R. Olson



Land use planning in the United States is entering a new era; the era of growth management. Statewide comprehensive growth planning is not unique to Washington. Many states either have comprehensive plans in place or are taking a close look at implementing such planning. Washington State's recent growth management legislation occurred out of a public perception that our high quality of life was threatened.


Washingtonians equate a high quality of life with a high quality of the environment. While numerous regional and statewide planning and environmental legislation had been enacted, starting in the 1950s, neither was comprehensive nor particularly effective. The public was perceiving unprecedented population growth, a loss of open space, uncontrolled logging and stream degradation, massive urban sprawl, clogged highways and freeways, disappearing critical areas and wildlife habitat--a general loss of an environment and quality of life that was highly valued. But, Washington has something else that is somewhat unique: a strong history and tradition of local land use control.


The legislative response to the public's demand for relief from the threats that were perceive had to be blended and tailored to our unique history and political requirements. The result was a "bottom up" approach. The Growth Management Act of Washington State has a standardized statewide format and requirements, concerns and objectives of the local communities. Sustainability and equity are also significant parts of the Act. Many communities are now going beyond the requirement of the Act to report on implementation of comprehensive plans.


For example, Pierce County established a program similar to the state of Oregon for identifying Indicators that lead to the County goals and Benchmarks that point to interim successes. The County is not adjusting their financing to what is termed "performance budgeting" in order to put their money into programs and projects that contribute to the overall enhancement of a higher quality of life in the County. It is this type of growth management--from making policy to implementation to monitoring performance to adjusting policy--that will make and keep Washington a desirable place to live and ensure a high quality of life for all of Washington's citizens.