Tulsa as a center of cultural heritage tourism

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In last week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, I urged making cultural heritage tourism the focus of Tulsa's efforts to attract visitors. Rather than marketing Tulsa as an "ocean of sophistication in a cultural desert," Tulsa should embrace its place in Oklahoma as "the capital of a region where visitors can experience the untamed, exuberant spirit of the American West in all its variety."

For whatever reason, the people we pay to promote Tulsa to the world -- the Tulsa Metro Chamber's Convention and Visitors Bureau -- seem uncomfortable promoting the unique aspects of our region. They position Tulsa as superior to and separate from the rest of Oklahoma, an oasis of sophistication in a cultural desert.

It's a distinctly Midtown Money Belt point of view, and it makes Tulsans seem like a bunch of insecure, provincial rubes, putting on airs -- the urban equivalent of Hyacinth Bucket.

While we should be proud of the cultural amenities that make Tulsa a great place to live, our tourism marketing should focus on what sets our region apart from the rest of the world.

A Milanese woman who lives a few miles from La Scala and the salons of Versace and Prada isn't likely to visit Oklahoma for the opera or Utica Square shopping, but she might come here to eat a chicken fried steak on Route 66, experience Oklahoma! in an open-air theater, or attend a powwow.

A resident of Berlin wouldn't cross the pond to see a Tulsa production of the plays of Bertolt Brecht, but he might travel here to two-step across Cain's curly maple dance floor, search out Ponyboy Curtis's hangouts, or attend the annual Kenneth Hagin Campmeeting -- depending on his particular passions.

Tulsa should position itself not as an enclave of Eastern sophistication but as the capital of a region where visitors can experience the untamed, exuberant spirit of the American West in all its variety.

Read the whole thing, and read more about how other cities and regions have successfully used their history as a tourist draw at culturalheritagetourism.org.

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5 Comments

PR Cleburne said:

You make an excellent point. We are what we are and we should be proud of it. I'm sick and tired of self hating Okies apologizing for our culture, snowbirds complaining that they can't find a good deli, and carpetbaggers trying to sell us a bill of goods about how to improve ourselves. We have so much here already but we have listened to yankees, snowbirds and carpetbaggers who don't know how to appreciate it for so long that we have forgotten who we are. The self hating Okies should learn more about their rich cultural heritage, the snowbirds should adapt, shut up or go home, and the carpetbaggers should be shown the state line.

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

I don't know about this. I'm sure you know my time in Tulsa goes back to when Tulsa really was the oil capitol and the IPE building really was the IPE building (actually, a little before that), and I don't recall Tulsa ever being western or rustic in any way.

Tulsa's snottiness vis a vis anything west of Sand Springs isn't anything new. The problem is that much of what Tulsa was has packed up and left. Now it's just a dirty city with no amusement park and the highest crime rates in the state.

For a while there, it looked like we might be a player in the telecom business, but the bottom pretty much fell out of that.

The midtown money belt have tried to compensate for Tulsa's decline by blowing wads of cash (taxpayer cash) on glitz projects figuring that if they could direct the world's attention to the nice, pretty new building, nobody would notice the other 99.99% dump of a city. Sort of like if you put a very attractive and expensive vase on the coffee table, nobody will notice the stench of the two dead animals next to the lamp. It never occurred to anyone that perhaps the better course of action would be to remove the dead animals and get the carpet cleaned.

But as long as we are all hoping tourists will overlook the grunge and crime, may I suggest a big indoor shooting range. Those Europeans can have a big old time with real firearms. After which, they can take a drive up north Cincinnati, or over to an apartment parking lot in East Tulsa to experience the thrill of being at the other end of the gun. Then follow that up with a return to their hotel room with the door kicked in and most of their stuff gone. If they are fortunate enough to be there when the door gets kicked in, they will enjoy the added benefit of being front page news (except it's happened so much that it isn't really front page material any more.)

If this is about treating the world to what Tulsa truly is, then let's be honest about it. And, by all means, let's buy a prettier vase for the coffee table. Digusted? Who, me?!

W. said:

With that kind of attitude, S. Lee, I'm surprised you bother to get up in the morning.

Only you can improve your own outlook. The world doesn't wait on mopes.

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

Hey W, with your kind of attitude, it's no wonder things continue to deteriorate in Tulsa. Check the FBI stats. Tulsa is getting worse. It is not perception. It's for real -- probably because people like you refuse to believe that anything is wrong. The first step to fixing something is to recognize it's broken.

The problem isn't one of outlook. The problem is one of people being victims of theft, burglary, robbery, armed home invasion, and murder. One SHOULD be disgusted about these things. That is the normal and appropriate response.

Check the population stats: The suburbs around Tulsa are growing quite nicely. Tulsa isn't. My, on my! There must be quite a number of people who do not share W's nirvana opinion of Tulsa. Hey W, you need to work harder at distributing those rose colored glasses.

Just to show that I have no hard feelings, I'll be glad to help maintain whatever sand pile you're keeping your head in these days. Let me know when to throw on another shovel full. You seem to be the type who likes a big, steaming shovel full.

"Always look on the bright siiiide of life."

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

To clarify the motivation for my comments, I recommend a quick study of Cleveland, Ohio. It isn't the only city that fits the pattern, but it is as good as any. If you Google "cleveland ohio tourist attractions", you will find that it has a bunch of them. Here is an example:
http://www.planetware.com/tourist-attractions-/cleveland-us-oh-c.htm
It has an impressive looking city hall. It has major league sports teams -- that's plural. It has one of the top orchestras in the world -- that's THE WORLD.

It was also recently crowned as the 10th most dangerous city
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0921299.html
or 11th most dangerous city
http://os.cqpress.com/citycrime/CityCrime2008_Rank_Rev.pdf
depending on how the crimes are weighted -- either way, it sucks to be Cleveland, tourist attractions and all.

It has experienced major white flight which reduced its population from about 918,000 in 1950 to 478,000 in 2000. And the estimate for 2007 is 438,000 -- a loss of 40,000 in only seven years. Here's the wiki page with the info:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleveland,_Ohio

They have spent enormous amounts of money on touristy projects and spiffy building projects, but the problems have only gotten worse. I spoke with a friend who lives there, and he told me that a consulting firm made it clear that the only way they were going to make things better is to fix the crime problem.

I can't think of a single city that touristificated its way out of decline brought on by increasing crime and flight to the suburbs.

Referring to one of the previous graphs:
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0921299.html
Note that Broken Arrow shows up as one of the safest. Do you suppose it must be their rip-roaring tourist industry?

And going back to this graph:
http://os.cqpress.com/citycrime/CityCrime2008_Rank_Rev.pdf
Scan for cities located in OK. See who is at the top of the list for OK.

Referring to this graph:
http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2007/data/table_06.html#c
We can see that, despite Cleveland's overall ranking, Tulsa has a worse rate of property crime -- 6,303 per 100K versus 6,142.

I don't think spending buckets of money to attract tourists is going to stop Tulsa's criminals, but that could just be my negative outlook. Maybe if I try harder to think positive, all the bad stuff will magically go away. There certainly seems to be a lot of people thinking that way.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 27, 2008 8:19 AM.

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