Will Tulsa's next big idea come from a committee?


Another excerpt from my long response to the Mayor's Vision Summit last year, in response to a question about diversity -- some thoughts on individual vs. shared vision.

I wonder if a "shared vision" is a threat to diversity. At worst, the phrase conjures up images of rallies in Pyongyang. At the least, it suggests a uniformity that can stifle any concept that doesn't fit the conventional wisdom.

Most of the really interesting things in our world are the product, not of a "shared vision" developed by committee, but of the unique vision of one person or a small group. I think of the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. It started in 1962 as the vision of one woman, Patty Carey, who acquired a used star projector and found some space in the poultry building at the state fairgrounds where she and some high school students could set it up. She wasn't thinking about boosting the city's economy or building a world-class tourist attraction -- she just wanted to inspire young people about space and science. Over time the planetarium grew in popularity, and exhibits were added. Today the Cosmosphere features "a U.S. space artifact collection second only to the National Air and Space Museum and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts found outside of Moscow," including the Apollo 13 command module and Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7. No committee would have come up with this idea, and no committee would have put it in the middle of Kansas. (And it is well worth the four-hour drive to visit.) If Patty Carey had gone to the Mayor of Hutchinson in 1962 and sought millions in public funding for her dream, she would have been laughed out of his office. In 1962, the little planetarium in the poultry building didn't need millions anyway -- the dream started small and grew over the course of decades.

The point is that the Next Great Big Idea That Will Put Tulsa On The Map is probably not one that a majority of us would recognize and get behind today. And the combined effect of a lot of Great Little Ideas, individually pursued, may do more for Tulsa's livability than any one big project. Perhaps our "shared vision" should be of a city that encourages individual innovation, rather than one where we are all expected to march in lock-step. (I didn't care for the description of the vision summiteers as an army of 1,100 people. We came to give marching orders, not to take them.) We need to come together to define "a shared vision" for Tulsa's public realm, but there should be liberty for individual visions to grow and flourish.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 23, 2003 1:10 AM.

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