Passing the popsicle test
A while back I wrote about the "Popsicle Test" -- a measure of the walkability of a neighborhood. "An eight-year-old in the neighborhood should be able to bike to a store to buy a Popsicle without having to battle highway-size streets and freeway-speed traffic." I grew up in a neighborhood like that, but that's not the common experience of the kids in today's Tulsa. The reason has a lot to do with our outdated approach to regulating what kinds of activities can take place on a given parcel of land. Our system of zoning is all about separating different uses from each other, based on the assumption that it's a bad thing to have, for example, shops close to homes. Between our zoning laws and the understandable desire of developers and their financiers to minimize risk and go with the flow, we've developed a city where life is impossible without a car, something that becomes a problem when you're too young to drive, when you're too old or too handicapped to drive safely, or when gas gets above $2 a gallon.
There are other ways to regulate land use, and they promise to make life more predictable and less risky for homeowners and developers alike, to remove some of the contention from land use regulation, and to allow more creativity and variety, while protecting against situations that really do threaten property values, safety, and quality of life. One approach is to focus not on what goes on inside the building -- the use -- but the scale of the building and how it relates to its surroundings. It's called form-based planning, and next Wednesday night, TulsaNow is sponsoring a series of brief talks and a panel discussion on the subject.
"Passing the Popsicle Test: A Better Tulsa by Design" will be presented Wednesday, April 27, at 6:30 p.m. in the OSU-Tulsa Auditorium, just north of downtown. Speakers will include Jamie Jamieson, developer of the Village at Central Park; Russell Claus, Oklahoma City's Director of the Office of Economic Development; and me. There will be a panel discussion with questions and answers following the presentations.
Land use continues to be the central issue in Tulsa politics. Form-based planning may be a way to think outside the box and come up with a solution that will meet the needs of developers and property owners while helping us to create a more beautiful and livable city.