Cities: May 2003 Archives

Yesterday I wrote about our visit to wonderful Riverside Park in beautiful Independence, Kansas. All along our route we noticed well-kept, attractive towns.

Ottawa has a picture perfect courthouse and a well preserved Main Street. (A 1999 series in the Ottawa Herald indicates concerns about their downtown, but it appears that the community has acted to save what they have.)

Garnett is another town with an intact Main Street and tree-lined residential streets.

Lawrence is set beautifully on hills overlooking the Kansas River. Massachusetts Avenue is the main drag -- a bustling Main Street serving both town and gown.

Here's an observation and a question: I am a proud Oklahoman, and yet I can't help but notice a quality and pride in these Kansas towns that I don't see in towns of similar size in Oklahoma. These Kansas towns seem to be surviving and thriving, while many similar towns in Oklahoma are on the wane, with Main Streets falling into disrepair, storefronts vacant or filled with sub-optimal uses and public spaces showing signs of neglect. The pride I've observed in Kansas I've also seen in many parts of Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, and Illinois. What accounts for the difference? I have some theories, but I'd love to see some of your ideas first.

Vagrant reality


A couple of interesting items yesterday regarding vagrancy (or as they call it these days, "homelessness"). John Derbyshire reports on the "battalions" of street people he encountered at City Hall Plaza in San Francisco, and reports that city leaders can't understand why the "homeless" population is increasing "despite" all the money they spend on the problem.

San Francisco is indeed generous to street people. A homeless adult on county welfare gets $395 a month, more than in any neighboring jurisdiction. There is no requirement that recipients have any roots in the county, nor is there any work requirement. I am willing to bet, though I haven't found a source, that there is not even a requirement for U.S. citizenship. So far as I have been able to discover, there are no requirements whatsoever. You just quit your job, move to a place with the most agreeable climate in the world, cease attending to matters of personal hygiene, get yourself a substance habit, and sign on for a hundred bucks a week, no questions asked. And Ms. Lelchuk wonders why the "homeless" population is growing!

Elsewhere on National Review Online, Jay Nordlinger links to a story from Oklahoma City TV station KFOR, in which Brad Edwards investigates what panhandlers do with the money people give them:

And, at another favorite panhandler intersection, I watched a crippled man flying a "need help" sign. He received four donations from drivers in only 17 minutes.

A local convenience store manager says the man doesn't limp when he's in using the donations to buy quarts of beer.

I approached him outside and the homeless man admitted to having cirosis of the liver and hepatitis, probably from alcohol abuse....

Meanwhile, back to our group of organized panhandlers who work their signs in two-hour shifts. They claimed the money wasn't for alcohol or drugs, they wanted to find a way off the streets. This, even though we found them sitting, well away from the highway, and out of sight. Drinks went behind the bench as we approached.

Tulsa has plenty of "hand-out" services for vagrants, but there is also a "hand-up" available. The best way you can help a street person who truly wants to escape self-medicated vagrancy is to get them to John 3:16 Mission, which offers a long-term rehabilitation program, as well as emergency food, shelter, and clothing.

John 3:16 Mission provides this list of eight ways to help the homeless.

Hearing news of a large tornado hitting the southern Oklahoma City metro area, nearly four years to the day after an F5 tornado cut a wide swath, like an expressway right-of-way across the southern and eastern suburbs of Oklahoma City.

Last weekend's Oklahoma Republican Convention was in Midwest City at the newly opened Reed Center, built in the midst of an area cleared by the 1999 tornado. Just a mile east on I-40 is Tinker Plaza, a now-rundown shopping center with a few tenants still in business, including Atkinson Development, the company that developed Midwest City after the opening of Tinker Air Depot. . I vaguely remembered going there once or twice as a child while visiting my cousins in town.

The center is surrounded by empty, razed blocks, another result, I assumed, of the same tornado. As I drove through I marveled that the tornado had spared the massive water tower -- tallest thing for miles -- and Tinker Plaza, but had destroyed everything in between. Turns out it wasn't the tornado's work after all, but a redevelopment project to create a "new urbanist" city center on 83 acres at the heart of the original 1940s development.

Does devoting half the area to surface parking lots disqualify the plan as new urbanist? Looks more like a slightly modified power center (like Southroads or Mingo Marketplace in Tulsa), but the architect for the project describes it as a "power hybrid", combining "big boxes" and "lifestyle" shopping. He rejects the term "power town" for this kind of development, because it lacks residential, office, and governmental uses, although by connecting to the street grid, it does provide something like a downtown.

If I read the site plan right, Tinker Plaza will vanish completely, so here's a photo with links to a couple more:

Tinker Plaza

Tinker Plaza, Atkinson Properties

Movie theatre, water tower and emptiness in between

Bricktown's Magic


A highlight of the Republican convention was a quick visit to Oklahoma City's Bricktown. A half-dozen of the Tulsa contigent drove in from Midwest City after the banquet Friday night, paid $5 to park in the garage. Parking was not too hard to find, but there seemed to be plenty of activity on the streets. It was bustling but not claustrophobic. Several of the clubs had lines out to the sidewalk. Being that I was the baby of the group (age 39) and that none of us looked hip enough to gain admittance, we passed by the rope lines and strolled down to the Bricktown Brewery for an hour or so of specialty beers (I stuck with Dr Pepper) and half-heard conversation.

As Tulsans look longingly at Oklahoma City for how to revive our city's spirit and recreate a lively urban center, people tend to focus on the new Ford Center arena, the Canal, and the Bricktown Ballpark. But there was nothing scheduled at the Ford Center tonight, and the Redhawks were out of town. So what was bringing people in to spend money in Bricktown?

Bricktown is its own attraction. It was a success long before the Ford Center opened. The baseball stadium hosts less than 70 games a season. The big ticket, publicly-funded facilities may have called attention to the nightclubs and restaurants, but there is no question that these privately-owned businesses, and the variety of people that they draw, are the big attraction. People want to be where other people already are. Once you build a critical mass of people, more and more will come. That's why I believe targeted investments in public infrastructure (e.g. streets and sidewalks), aimed at encouraging investments like those already made by Michael Sager and other urban pioneers, will do more to make downtown vibrant again than an arena or ballpark. If we make it easier for more people to live in downtown, and if we remove anything in the public sphere that deters new investment, we'll see the kind of new life we've been hoping for.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from May 2003.

Cities: June 2003 is the next archive.

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