"A fundamental challenge that Tulsans need to overcome"

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The following comment, by Tom Gulihur of CalCoast Realty, was posted on a much earlier entry, Will the Real New Urbanism Please Stand Up? Gulihur is a California-based real estate broker and financier with a fascinating resumé and deep Oklahoma roots.

This essay wasn't likely to get much readership in the comments of an old entry, so I'm posting it here. I think you'll find it as thought-provoking and well-written as I did.

I come from land rush era Oklahoman stock on both sides of the family and I lived in Oklahoma until I was ten years old, when my family moved to LA, like true Okies. Parents and grandparents are OU alums and paternal grandparents are OSU alums. I love Oklahoma in a nostalgic way, but I understand why many people outside of Oklahoma blanche at the corny Wal-Mart mentality there (and the rest of the South and Midwest).

But some real estate development business is bringing me back to OK. There's a downtown revitalization occurring in Tulsa and I'm involved in a project there. I've been reading gobs of information on Tulsa and urban renewal there and want to explain a fundamental challenge that Tulsans need to overcome. I've seen San Diego's urban renewal and have studied New Urbanism enough to understand how this has to work. First, the public has to buy-in to most of the concepts of New Urbanism or the whole thing will flop. Here is a quick version of what it requires:

  • Create dense and intense development at the urban core using form based zoning code. That means don't classify building by use, but rather by their shape. Encourage mixed-use buildings but not only retail-office-residential; enable all mixed uses similar to the early 1920’s in America (it should basically look like Disney’s Main Street USA).
  • Create a pedestrian-friendly environment. Expand public transit to de-emphasize the use of the car. Of course this is difficult in an economy that is based on big oil and Detroit steel (now Japanese and German steel too).
  • Design an attractive public realm. Plant corridors of street trees, install traffic-calming devices, open corridors of greenbelts with paths and walkways to enable pedestrian and bicyclist activity, build 'vest-pocket parks'. Honor public institutions through architecture and placement. A well designed public realm, whether it’s a residential neighborhood (think of Georgetown, in Washington, D.C.), a public square, a village green, a park or a retail shopping street, they should all encourage people to want to ‘hang out’, ‘hang around’ or walk through it and walk to it. All this hanging out and walking around has a second major benefit to society besides the individual’s personal enjoyment of the experience, is that CRIME IS REDUCED where there are a lot of citizens with their eyes open. Democratic values are also strengthened when the public realm is strong.
  • Build using environmentally sustainable techniques. Use all active and passive solar technologies available and use recycled or recyclable building materials.
  • Mix housing types in random and close proximity. Don't just build high-rise condos that all cost from $300k to $500k because that fosters elitist classicism. This is the biggest challenge facing New Urbanists everywhere because of the conventional way residential projects are financed according to target market segments that naturally form socio-economic groups that lead to isolation of other groups. A truly democratic and vibrant culture occurs when a CEO and a janitor can live as compatible neighbors, although that's an extreme example.

It's important for the public to learn more about New Urbanism, which is also called Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND), Transit Oriented Development (TOD), Smart Growth, or other similar concepts. The American leader in this concept is Andres Duany and his wife Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Their architecture and urban planning firm is at DPZ.com and at CNU.org (The Congress for the New Urbanism). Better yet, read Duany's entertaining book, SUBURBAN NATION, THE RISE OF SPRAWL AND THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM. Then you will ‘get’ New Urbanism.

Some conservatives see a political subcurrent to it and there really is an environmental concern and inclusionary aspect to it. But hey, the icecaps seem to be melting from global warming aren't they? Ten years ago you could argue against that assertion but it's different now. The inclusionary aspect of democratic society is an important part of New Urbanism that doesn't necessarily disagree with a conservative agenda, unless it includes environmental abuse.

In my experience, residential development always leads retail development because retail business owners cannot follow the ludicrous mantra of 'build it and they will come'. Retail will die on the vine if there it is not surrounded by a sea of 'rooftops', meaning the rooftops of consumers. So there's always a lag of retail development behind residential development. And the biggest complaint of the first wave of downtown dwellers when a city starts a downtown renaissance is that there is no convenient or good grocery store downtown. And there are the homeless, who often represent a security problem for wealthy urbanites.

But if Tulsa wants to be the next SOHO or downtown Vancouver, or Portland, or San Diego then it needs to loosen up the archaic liquor laws, IMHO. You need to get a Trader Joe's in downtown for sure, and TJ's needs to be able to sell its selection of wines and beers, which is probably only about 10% of their business, but a crucial 10%. So you guys need to dump the blue laws and welcome to the 21st century. Get out of the Wal-Mart fundamentalist attitude, open your minds and live and let live.

Tulsa has always enjoyed a more cosmopolitan flair than larger Oklahoma City (from where my family hails), although some people on the left and right coasts would snort at the words 'cosmopolitan' and 'Oklahoma' in the same sentence. What Oklahoma has all over the snobbier coastal societies is a warm friendliness that says 'you're OK!', to borrow a partial phrase from Transactional Analysis and Rogers and Hammerstein.

Good luck Okies! I'm rooting for you. But you'll need to loosen your liquor laws and learn about New Urbanism before real progress can move forward.

A couple of comments: (1) Of course I'm curious to know which downtown Tulsa project Gulihur is involved with, and pleased to know someone familiar with these concepts is involved in a downtown project. (2) There's a reference in his comment to financing, and Gulihur is involved in the financial end of real estate. One of the obstacles to building mixed-use or traditional neighborhood developments is that the money people don't understand it and don't have comparables to guide their lending decisions. (The Next American City had an in-depth article on the topic, "Why Building Smart Is So Hard," in the inaugural issue.) I'd be interested in Mr. Gulihur expanding on that issue from his experience.

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Patric said:

"All this hanging out and walking around has a second major benefit to society besides the individual’s personal enjoyment of the experience, is that CRIME IS REDUCED where there are a lot of citizens with their eyes open."

...and by EYES OPEN we most likely mean not stuck behind the thick curtains many urban dwellers resort to when poorly-planed street lighting robs them of their privacy/sleep/quality of life.

Ive seen far too many examples of designers who view outdoor illumination as aesthetic "street furniture" and pay little attention to how it affects human vision. Glare doesnt make public spaces safer or more inviting, no matter how fancy the fixtures look in the daytime.

Likewise, New Urbanism doesnt have to be the tool utilities use to promote increased use of energy-hungry decorative fixtures, and there's no rule saying every community has to be lined with faux-antique "Acorn" streetlights.
If anything, any large-scale urban makeover is the ideal opportunity to illuminate streets with improved vision in mind (rather than how much electricity the utility needs to sell). Our pocketbooks wont be the only beneficiaries of better lighting practices when designers begin to take a serious look at glare and "light trespass".

G Webster Wormleigh said:

He's right about Trader Joe's. But the same thing would apply to almost any grocer, from Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets on up. Go to Dallas and visit Central Market. Then go to Whole Foods. Here are two additional chains which would add to the life style in Tulsa, but they won't come unless they can sell wine and beer, and I don't mean 3.2 percent swill. And, while in Dallas, go to Jimmy's. This is an old time Italian grocery and deli, recently re-built after a fire. What fun! It's just off of Ross Avenue, close to downtown. Not a good area, but it still draws folks with money to spend, and they like his selections of cheap Italian wines. Gulihur is right there, and sounds too smart to be involved in the Channels boondoggle.

sbtulsa said:

where do casinos fit in this guys analysis? how many casinos are there in OKC? since OKC seems to be succeeding whre we're screwing up, has anyone looked to see if they are employing any of the concepts in the article?

Twatch said:

The Real New Urbanism is driven by several principles, among them;
(1) The current construct of Human Settlements consumes far too much energy to be sustainable, especially in the United States and must be made much more static.
(2) Locations of current Human Settlements are detrimental to the ecology and must be reconstructed and strategically repopulated with vast amounts of wilderness set aside.
(3) Humans must be moved by mass transit between population centers to conserve energy and prevent intrusion into the pristine ecology.
(4) Peace and Social Justice will result only from dense, static and mixed use settlements.
(5) The center of social society and community mores must be shifted from Churches to Government Schools to achieve tolerance and a fully realized Human Potential.
Along the way business (willing and connected players) will be drawn into Public/Private Partnerships with long term deals (75-100 years) to assure business sustainability for the Newly Static Settlements. This is an argument to trade Freedom for Sustainability, Liberty for Tyranny and to owe your soul to the company store.
New Urbanism is nothing more than repacked "Man Centered Socialism" that has been a historic abject failure by every meaningful measure.

Twatch, what's your basis for claiming that those are the principles of the "Real New Urbanism"? As I posted several weeks ago, those principles don't bear any resemblance to the actual work of the architects and urban designers who founded the Congress on the New Urbanism.

Twatch said:

Congress on the New Urbanism involvement in a project to rate Sustainablity of neighborhood design makes them a calaborator in Sustainable Development with all its ramifications.
See the following:

A stream of thought in sustainable development maintains that sustainabilty is primarily based on the combination of high density and transit service. To the extent that many new urbanist developments rely on automobile transport and serve the detached single family housing market, critics claim they fall short of being truly sustainable. However, a forthcoming rating and certification scheme for neighborhood environmental design, LEED-ND, should help to quantify the sustainability of New Urbanist neighborhood design; it is being developed by a partnership between the US Green Building Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Congress for the New Urbanism.
Sustainable Development is an term used to describe methods of creating economic growth which protect the environment, relieve poverty, and do not destroy natural capital in the short term at the expense of long term development.
While many definitions of the term have been introduced over the years, the most commonly cited definition comes from the report Our Common Future, more commonly known as the Brundtland Report, which states that sustainable development is development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Sustainable development is often misinterpreted as focusing solely on environmental issues. In reality, it is a much broader concept as sustainable development policies encompass three general policy areas: economic, environmental and social. In support of this, several United Nations texts, most recently the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, refer to the "interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars" of sustainable development as economic development, social development, and environmental protection.
The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO, 2001) elaborates further the concept by stating that "...cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature”; it becomes “one of the roots of development understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence". In this vision, cultural diversity is the fourth policy area of sustainable development.
Some research activities start from this definition to show that the environment we inherited and that we will transmit to future generations is a combination of nature and culture. The Network of Excellence "Sustainable Development in a Diverse World" SUS.DIV, sponsored by the European Union, works in this direction. It integrates multidisciplinary capacities and interprets cultural diversity as a key element of a new strategy for sustainable development.
Sustainable development is a notoriously ambiguous concept, as a wide array of views have fallen under its umbrella. The concept has included notions of weak sustainability, strong sustainability and deep ecology. Different conceptions also reveal a strong tension between ecocentrism and anthropocentrism. Thus, the concept remains weakly defined and contains a large amount of debate as to its precise definition.
Environmental Sustainability
Environmental degradation is the damage to the biosphere as a whole due to human activity. Environmental degradation occurs when nature's resources (such as trees, habitat, earth, water and air) are being consumed faster than nature can replenish them, when pollution results in irreparable damage done to the environment or when human beings destroy or damage ecosystems in the process of development. Environmental degradation can take many forms including, but not limited to, desertification, deforestation, extinction and radioactivity. Some of the major causes of such degradation include: overpopulation, urban sprawl, industrial pollution, waste dumping, intensive farming, over fishing, industrialization, introduction of invasive species and a lack of environmental regulations. The goal of environmental sustainability is to minimize these, and other causes, to halt and, ideally, reverse the processes they lead to.
An unsustainable situation occurs when natural capital (the sum total of nature's resources) is used up faster than it can be replenished. Sustainability requires that human activity, at a minimum, only uses nature's resources at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally:
Theoretically, the long term final result of environmental degradation would result in local environments that are no longer able to sustain human populations to any degree. Such degradation on a global scale would, of course, mean extinction for humanity.
In the short-term, environmental degradation leads to declining standards of living, the extinctions of large numbers of species, health problems in the human population, conflicts, sometimes violent, between groups fighting for a dwindling resource, water scarcity and many other major problems.

I think New Urbanism and Sustainable Development are sides of the same nickle.

pinky said:

new urbanism, schmurbanism.........i just want a safe, healthy, nuturing environment where i can raise my family in a traditional single family home with a decent size yard that really belongs to me.

i don't want gates (that don't protect me from the criminals that live inside the gates), i don't want to share a pool, or a retention pond, or a tot lot with neighbors i don't know, and that will increase my liability and possibly erode my equity.

i don't want privately held infrastructure coupled with privately held liability, and i don't want ever increasing homeowner association dues that are not tax deductible yet still have to pay my fair share of property taxes.

i want to be able to support nearby mom and pop shops for the things i need because i am not crazy about walmarts full of fat people in electric carts who can still walk just fine.

i want sidewalks and biketrails that are connected to my immediate non-hoa neighborhood so that i don't become a fat person in an electric cart.

oh, and by the way, left coast west coast rat race? been there, done that, hate that.

i would gladly take oklahomans and walmarts filled with fat people anyday over crowded, polluted, gridlocked environments filled with stressed out mean spirited people living in stucco homes marching in lock step to the same boring shades of beige on postage stamp size lots. ugh.

(i hear many left coasters are moving to the heartland to escape the rat race? that's just fine as long as they don't bring their rat attitudes with them!)

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 26, 2006 12:01 AM.

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