Cities: June 2003 Archives

The Next American City


Got word today that Tulsa Now was mentioned in the the second issue of The Next American City, which describes itself as

a new national magazine that explores the transformation of America's cities and suburbs, asking tough questions about how and why our economy, society and culture are changing. ["Our Mission"]

Unfortunately, the article that refers to Tulsa Now, entitled "Tulsa Time Blues", is not yet online; only selected articles from the current issue are available. There are plenty of interesting articles online, however:

The description of that book review is a fair characterization of the approach that The Next American City is taking: Sympathetic to "smart growth", New Urbanism, and related concepts, but willing to examine honestly their theoretical contradictions and practical problems.

One complaint: The website is not Mozilla-friendly. You can only get to the drop down menus and therefore to many pages on their site if you are using IE.

Can't wait to find out what they said about Tulsa Now, but until then, there's plenty of stimulating material to ponder.

Bob and Ray on urban renewal


Someone sent me this -- a Bob and Ray bit with Ray as Hubert C. Waxford, chairman of the "Far Sighted Planners for Urban Renewal":

Bob: I understand you put forth a number of new theories on urban renewal from your office in Washington.

Waxford: I did have an office in Washington, but it was torn down on the recommendation of another urban renewal planner.

Bob: Well, in any event....

Waxford: I'll get him for that, too, if it's the last thing I ever do. Yeah, he turned my office into a parking lot for his office....

Later, Waxford demonstrates more far-sighted urban renewal ideas:

Waxford: Now for instance, I recently calculated that Tucson, Arizona, could become a city of one million if it had a good harbor on the Pacific Ocean. But we'd have to tear down San Diego and replace it with Tucson to do that. However, I'm hoping that some of the people who had to move away when we tore all the buildings down may eventually come back. If they do, they'll find that it's much better planned than it used to be.

Bob: Well, I'm sure that's true, and you've given us all a better understanding of how you improve communities by destroying them, Mr. Waxford....

They really nail the urban renewal ethos. You can hear it on Bob and Ray: The Lost Episodes, Volume Three.

Sorry for the slow pace the last few days. Life has been busy.

I received a couple of interesting responses to my report on Atlanta's downtown and why nothing seems to have worked, and also to my item about the proposed downtown Tulsa sports arena, redubbed the "regional events center". The writers have consented to be quoted here. Here's one comment:

Why the Bricktowns of the world (also the Buckhead area of Atlanta and the Dallas West End) are doing so well is simply that people crave Authenticity.

Tulsa, too had a Bricktown, which was north of the Williams Center to Archer between Cheyenne and Detroit area. Unfortunately, aggressive urban renewal razed those old buildings to make mostly parking lots in the late '60's/early 70's. OKC and Dallas just were not as aggressive as Tulsa in the Demolition Derby, and managed to save a critical core of the older brick office buildings and warehouses. I remember when ALL the Dallas West End had going for it was a Spaghetti Warehouse, and an undistinguished hamburger stand, circa 1980, plus many, many old vacant cotton warehouses. It did have a slight advantage in being 4 blocks from Dealey Plaza, though.

I fully expect to see a new Tulsa Project III additional one-cent Tax Blitzkrieg to be launched on us about 60 days before a scheduled special election. The proponents will be well-organized, well-financed, and speak with a well-honed message from Turnbo and Snakey. They will blitz the airwaves with the message to just spend one more itty-bitty penny and HALLELUJAH -- Salvation will come to Tulsa. The 60-day blitzkrieg is to prevent an opposition groups from a) getting organized, and b) getting a different message to the voters.

Tulsa's core problems are lack of new high paying jobs, and holding on to the ones we've still got.

In a later comment, the same writer adds:

Finally the idea about people craving authenticity is not truly an original idea of mine. Michael Crichton introduced me to this idea in his fine book Timeline. I think this craving has something to do with the success of E-Bay, where people can buy tiny bits of Americana or memorabilia, stamps, coins, collectables, hoola-hoops, Davy Crockett Caps, etc. Or, witness the popularity of antique stores, frequently in small town America. Guthrie comes to mind. It's a living Bricktown!

Then there's this from a well-traveled young entrepreneur -- the kind of person everyone says we need to attract to Tulsa:

...when I read the draft of projects being considered the other day, my primary reaction was: "Tulsa Regional Events Center---What in the World and Why?!?" Why would something suddenly appear "out of the blue" and warrant almost 100 million dollars of tax money? What is the purpose for it? We already have an event center going up west of downtown. And where would it be?

Your comments answered my question of "What is it" (leading to a subsequent feeling of depression and nausea...and confirming my worst suspicions), but what I don't understand is why the new administration (who is supposedly more enlightened and concerned about the vitality of Tulsa) refuses to take into account proof of research and the similar mistakes of other cities? When plans were announced for the music pavillion, I thought this issue of the arena was taken care of....

I appreciate the article about Atlanta. In fact, I have visited Atlanta a number of times, and although I drove through downtown for the first couple of times looking for SOMETHING to do (unsuccessfully--I might add), I always spent my time in Buckhead--quite disappointed that a city of such size would have only a very small area of vitality and interest. So I quit visiting Atlanta. The one time I did anything in downtown Atlanta was go to a Braves game, then immediately left downtown when the game was over to drive back to Nashville where things were more interesting. And when I spent a few years in Nashville, it was prior to the building of their arena. And I can tell you...that city was ALIVE downtown...years before the building of an arena. People flocked to the restaurants, clubs, eclectic shops, and entertainment in the downtown district. (I still miss my old hangout--the jazz club.) And I had friends who lived in loft homes above the downtown retail shops.

Thus, even my own limited travel experience disproves the theory that an arena revitalizes anything! So why in the world are they ignoring research and the mistakes of other cities to still consider an arena of primary importance for tax money? I have always thought that if it's such a great idea, a savvy private investor will take advantage of the opportunity and do it him/herself. (Oops! Someone just did that...or something very like.)

That last parenthetical comment is a reference to the Oklahoma Music Pavillion, a privately funded venture for a 20,000 seat concert venue scheduled to break ground this month.

Last week ground was broken on a new downtown destination for Atlanta, the $200 million Georgia Aquarium, to be funded entirely by a donation by Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution used the occasion to take a sober look at the likely impact on downtown Atlanta's vitality:

Construction cranes will raise hopes along with girders. Finally, boosters exhort, Atlanta's urban core will have the last major draw it needs to turn back 35 years of downtown resembling a ghost town at dusk....

Gov. Sonny Perdue adds his voice to the chorus. "This area can be a dramatic destination for people to stay longer in Atlanta," he said this week.

If the hyperbole sounds familiar, it is. Downtown Atlanta's recent past is checkered with the "next big thing" that was to save it.

The renovation of Underground Atlanta was the buzz in the 1980s. The 1990s were a whirlwind with the opening of the World of Coca-Cola museum near Underground and the decision of the Atlanta Falcons football team to stay downtown rather than move to the suburbs, not to mention the 1996 Summer Olympics, which were to make everyone want to live in the city center.

Each event was a step forward. But collectively the projects have remade downtown into the home of no more than 2,500 residents. It is not a destination that keeps suburban residents returning to events such as $3 summer concerts at Centennial Olympic Park and free ones at Woodruff Park, or packing Underground's restaurants on the way to a Braves game.

This year alone, Macy's closed its historic department store and the prominent King & Spalding law firm announced it would move out to Midtown. Last year, Georgia-Pacific scrapped plans for an office building once slated to rise more than 20 stories above Peachtree Street.

Note that Atlanta's downtown population is pretty close to Tulsa's. (2,487 was the population within Tulsa's Inner Dispersal Loop in the 2000 census.) If billions of dollars of public and private investment in large edifices haven't made the difference for downtown, will one more tourist-oriented facility bring it back to life? The article goes on to give hints as to what is holding downtown Atlanta back:

This is a break from traditional planning in Atlanta, where attractions are plunked down with little effort to link them. Atlanta's hotel district is not within easy walking distance of the football and baseball stadiums, the convention center or Underground....

These days, walking the streets is not a pleasant experience, in part because sidewalks are broken and filthy and homeless loiterers use shrubs as toilets and aggressively hit up pedestrians for cash. Few of downtown's narrow streets beckon tourists to stroll along them in hopes of finding that funky gift for friends back home....

The lack of restaurants downtown could become a bigger issue once the aquarium and Coke museum open. Several fancy places already exist near the park and downtown hotels. But they are priced for diners on expense accounts, beyond the reach of families on a budget....

There's also a clue as to what might help the most:

Meanwhile, Georgia State University's downtown expansion is helping to make streets feel safer.

Thousands of students trek daily to and from the main campus, classrooms and studios in the historic Fairlie-Poplar district, which lies between Peachtree Street and Centennial Olympic Park. GSU President Carl Patton believes the students and faculty are boosting the area's vibrancy. Still, the college crowds have not prompted many new restaurants to open.

Maybe there's a clue here -- people, not big buildings, make a downtown more vibrant. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin summarized the problem, as quoted in a sidebar to the other article:

"We see a thriving Buckhead. We see a Midtown with a great plan and a revitalization under way," she said. "But in downtown -- while we have assets like the Georgia World Congress Center, the hotels, Philips Arena, the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park -- it still doesn't seem to come together. You don't have a sense of place. And you don't know you are in Atlanta."

I've not spent much time in Atlanta, but I read that Buckhead is a district of historic residential neighborhoods and walkable shopping districts, while Midtown Atlanta also offers historic neighborhoods and landmarks like the fabulous Fox Theatre. Downtown has big sports/convention facilities, but the areas that are thriving have history, local character, and, most of all, people living there.

I note that the AJC's article was picked up by the Tulsa World over the weekend. Let's hope that the members of the Dialog / Visioning leadership team read the article and take Atlanta's lessons to heart as they choose a package to put before the voters.

About this Archive

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

Cities: May 2003 is the previous archive.

Cities: July 2003 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]