The megalomaniacal madness of urban renewal

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Doug Loudenback has a post from a month or so ago featuring beautiful vintage postcards of Oklahoma City. Mixed into the pastel tinted images of Prairie Commercial, Sullivanesque, and Art Deco buildings was a fact that should make you gasp:

[The Kingkade Hotel] survived until the 1960s-1970s Urban Renewal era when 447 buildings were destroyed by the Urban Renewal Authority and another 75 more by private owners.

That may be hard to believe, but when you look at a satellite view of OKC, it makes sense. Four blocks cleared for the Myriad arena (Cox Business Center), another four for a massive parking deck, another four for Myriad Gardens, one for Stage Center. I would guess that the two blocks (maybe more) just north of the Cox Business Center were also urban renewal zones. Seven blocks were run through with I-40. I don't know if Doug's number includes Deep Deuce (OKC's version of Greenwood) the area cleared for I-235, or the research park just east of I-235.

Oklahoma City urban renewal was an insane master plan conceived, I'm ashamed to say, by an MIT alumnus, I. M. Pei.

Tulsa's leaders weren't any wiser than Oklahoma City's, just less ambitious, with much of the demolition being accomplished by private, rather than public interests. But Tulsa government did enough damage clearing away buildings that were nicer and more substantial than those you'll find in the Blue Dome District, demolishing nearly all of Greenwood, and blitzing the residential neighborhoods adjacent to the central business district.

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I.M. Pei also designed at least one of the worst workspaces at MIT itself, so he did spread the love.

The real problem is not that they demolished buildings and built new ones, but that they demolished buildings with 75-100 year lifespans and replaced them with buildings with 20 year ones. The old buildings turned into slums quite nicely, and now make for great gentrification. I cannot imagine a single I.M. Pei structure that can be repurposed without razing it.

On a slightly doubly-related point, did you see the article on the failure of Mephis's scattered site public housing in The Atlantic this month? There's also a review of Wright's hotel in Bartlesville. (I wouldn't want to work in a Wright building, either.)

Thanks for the pointers to The Atlantic, Forrest; I'll check those out.

Are you referring to the Green Building (the skyscraper), the Landau Building (the 3-4-5 right triangle), or the Dreyfus Building as "one of the worst workspaces at MIT"? (The Green Building's main claims to fame are the occasional decoration of its radome and the annual pumpkin drop.)

I've never seen a humane Pei building. It follows that his ideas of urban design would be heedless of tradition and human scale as well.

Good point about what was torn down in OKC -- those old buildings have good bones, as I saw first hand when I toured the old Jacobs Hotel here in Tulsa, which is becoming the First Street Lofts.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 7, 2008 10:27 PM.

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