Cities: February 2006 Archives

Steve Patterson of Urban Review - St. Louis posted an entry recently about that city's '70s plan to "deplete" much of the older sections of northern St. Louis. The idea was to write off parts of the city for lost, discourage new investment in those areas, and provide a minimum amount of services for those remaining, until they all die off or move away. A quote from the plan:

Efforts must be made to adjust services and public investments so as to provide for those who are remaining in these areas. Yet these efforts should be pursued without encouraging new investment until the City determined that Redevelopment can and should begin.

Steve links to this item on, which in turn links to this 2002 article: "Quiet Conspiracy: The Team Four Plan and the Plot to Kill North St. Louis". The Team Four Plan was an update to the City of St. Louis' comprehensive plan, and it recommended the demolition of 70,000 homes in the predominantly African-American part of the city.

The plan was drafted in response to a 1973 RAND Corporation study that predicting that the City of St. Louis would no longer be the commercial hub of the metro area and the city should accept its fate as just another municipality among many. The cause for this decline?

The report largely blamed federal government policies for the City’s fate. Very similar to what was happening at the same time in New York City, the report said that highway construction, federal home mortgage programs, and property tax incentives all encouraged the exodus of people and commerce from the City into suburban areas.

Any of this sound familiar yet, Tulsans? (A related side note: I was at a political event a few weeks ago and met Tom Kimball, the head of economic development for Owasso. He told me that right now, about half the population of the metro area lives within the City of Tulsa, and half without. He said that it's natural for the center city to become an even smaller proportion of the metro area, and pointed to St. Louis as an example. I thought, but didn't say, that Tulsa tripled its land area in 1966 precisely to avoid getting hemmed in by its suburbs. I forget the exact number he quoted me, but I believe he suggested that Tulsa shouldn't complain about ending up at around a quarter to a third of the metro area population.)

In an update, links to this 2004 story about city planner Rollin Stanley. A couple of points caught my eye. St. Louis' 1947 comprehensive plan called for demolishing "a large swath" of the most urban part of the city and rebuilding it with suburban-style homes. The other is the amount of distrust between the African-American community and City Hall because of plans that called for the neglect and demolition of their neighborhoods.

The idea of depleting parts of St. Louis was a popular urban "revitalization" strategy, even though it sounds more like death by exposure than healing and restoration. Another term for the idea is "planned shrinkage," described in this article by Gregory Heller, as applied to a neighborhood in New York City:

Like others in the South Bronx, Harlem, and Brooklyn, this district [Manhattan's Lower East Side] was generating very little tax revenue while costing the city great expenses for social services. These neighborhoods were an economic drain on the financially troubled city. Planned shrinkage, a policy conceived by Roger Starr in 1966 and officially implemented during his tenure as Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development under Mayor Abe Beame in 1976, was a way to expedite the "death" of these troubled neighborhoods to make way for their eventual redevelopment (Wallace and Wallace, 1998, p. 18-19, 24-25).

Insurance and mortgage company redlining, withdrawal of city services, cutting back on code enforcement and police patrols, no new investment in streets and public amenities -- all resulted in vacant buildings, followed by urban renewal condemnation and demolition of blight, followed by site assembly for new private developers. Heller says that Mayor Rudy Giuliani halted the city's collection of land for redevelopment and began to get the property back into the hands of the private sector.

(Again, I'm reminded of complaints by northside Tulsa leaders about the amount of land the city has accumulated and seems to be just sitting on.)

I don't have the time or energy right now to connect all the dots. The articles I've linked will give you a sense of some of the currents of thought in urban policy since World War II, currents that affected every major American city, and not in a good way. They'll also give you an understanding of the roots of the suspicion that many north Tulsa residents have about the substandard housing initiative and other revitalization plans. Food for thought.

A vision is a "compelling description of your preferred future," not a collection of public construction projects. This week's column is about comprehensive planning and developing a real vision for Tulsa's future. Tulsa's comprehensive plan is about 30 years old, but the process to get a new one is underway. Kansas City redid theirs in the '90s, and they have an ongoing effort to implement it. Dallas has unveiled a draft comprehensive plan with a strong theme of making more of Dallas pedestrian-friendly. Tulsa could learn a lot from these cities, but the scorched-earth approach of the development lobby may stop Tulsa from having the kind of visionary leadership we need.

I first learned about the Dallas plan thanks to this topic on the TulsaNow forum.

Some supplemental links:

The report of Comprehensive Plan Process Task Force: transmittal letter, draft report, and draft process.

Tulsa City Council's resolution adopting the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan Process Task Force.

ForwardDallas, Dallas's comprehensive planning effort.

ForwardDallas's draft comprehensive plan documents.

The urban design element of ForwardDallas (14.5 MB PDF).

Dallas Morning News (free registration required) story on the plan: "Pedestrians, not cars, star in draft of plan, but code changes sought"

Dallas does moratoriums, too. One example: building permits and certificates of occupancy within 1000 feet of a section of Fort Worth Avenue were halted for four months, to allow time for a development study to be completed. This is much stricter, although shorter in duration, than the eminent domain moratorium being proposed for Tulsa.

The big infill development battle in Dallas has been over McMansions -- tearing down smaller homes in older neighborhoods and building houses that fill their lots and dwarf neighboring homes. Here's a blog devoted to the fight against McMansions. (In Tulsa, it's been more typical to replace a sprawling ranch home on a multiple-acre lot with several multi-story houses.) is an interesting community blogging effort at creating an alternative news presence online. I intend to explore it further.

Here's the home page for FOCUS Kansas City.

Jane Jacobs is one of my heroes, my city planning guru. If there's one book I wish every city official would read, it's her Death and Life of Great American Cities.

There's an excellent introduction to Jane Jacobs' life and work over on 2Blowhards. It not only gives you the basic bio, but it puts her life in the context of the post-war, government-driven, in-the-name-of-progress madness that destroyed so much of our nation's urban fabric. Reading this article will help you understand why so many "revitalization" attempts not only failed but actually made things worse.

If you're a Tulsa voter, and more importantly if you're a candidate or a reporter or a leader in Step Up Tulsa! or a participant in Leadership Tulsa or on the board of the Tulsa Metro Chamber or in the leadership of the Tulsa Real Estate Coalition, if you have the notion that all urban critics are cranky naysayers, you need to read this, preferably with an open mind. Even if you can't manage an open mind, read it anyway. It still might help.

Hat tip to David Sucher's City Comforts Blog.

TRACKBACK: Forrest Christian at Requisite Reading links to a post from his archive, about the application of Jacobs' urban observations to the office environment, and the importance of relationships with "weak ties" to innovation.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from February 2006.

Cities: December 2005 is the previous archive.

Cities: April 2006 is the next archive.

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