Cities: July 2007 Archives

This comment on an earlier entry by S. Lee was so well-made that I thought it deserved spotlighting here:

Rather than be accused of a being a "nay sayer" (which, as we all know, is almost as bad as being a fan of Ann Coulter), I would suggest using Cleveland, OH as an example of how buying stuff does not constitute economic development. Cleveland is a great example of a city population that was sucked into to voting for tax increase after tax increase to pay for stuff that would magically transform the city into greatness. Instead, all they got was rapid population loss, high taxes, and a crime rate even higher than Tulsa's.

Much of what is being hustled to Tulsa voters and the method of hustling looks like Cleveland deja vu all over again. Take a look at Cleveland's web site. If stuff was what made a city, then Cleveland ought to be solid gold. But it ain't. People are moving out of Cuyahoga county over to Lorain county ... where the taxes are lower (probably crime too). Brothers and sisters, can I have a Homer Simpson "Doh!"

Note a web page about living downtown; and (egad!) a waterfront project.

I've read comments about how full the Arkansas river has been lately, and wouldn't it be nice if it were always like that. I wouldn't know since you can only see the river from a very, very small part of Tulsa where I've not taken the time to go so I can see a river. Wow! A river! I'm sure I missed out on the thrill of my life -- but I sure have seen a lot of bad roads. I'll trade some better roads and lower crime for a sandy river (that I don't often see) any day, any time.

It might be interesting, at one of the county meetings, to get a show of hands of how many people know what kind of convention center and city offices Charlotte, NC has. How many people at the meeting care about what other stuff Charlotte has bought lately? If they got a job offer in Charlotte, would they be asking what kind of stuff has Charlotte bought lately; or would they be more interested in mundane things such as transportation, crime rate, and schools?

Some folks are just so stinkin' boring.

It's been a while since I've been to Cleveland, but I attended two weddings in Cleveland and a third in Canton back in the early '90s. I remember going with some friends down to the Flats and eating at (ho hum) TGI Fridays on a Friday night. (It was May 1992 and the night of Johnny Carson's last tonight show.) The Flats is a former industrial / warehousing area on the banks of the Cuyahoga River which was converted into an entertainment district, much like Bricktown in Oklahoma City or Laclede's Landing in St. Louis. I was surprised to read not long ago that the Flats are now under re-re-development.

Ron of Route 66 News evaluates one of Lady Bird Johnson's legacies:

But the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which restricted billboards along our nation’s highways, proved to be damaging to Route 66 businesses when they were struggling to survive amid the continuing rise of the interstates.

These Mother Road businesses were struggling enough against the chains. Restricting the use of billboards — a crucial advertising tool — made it harder....

[R]ich and powerful companies managed to skirt the law, while many mom-and-pop businesses didn’t have the influence to so.

From family trips back in the early '70s, I remember the stark difference between driving the Turner and Will Rogers Turnpikes and the Indian Nations Turnpike. The Turner and Will Rogers were built in the '50s and had many signs (evidently grandfathered) pointing to nearby Route 66 businesses like the Thurman Motel, Buffalo Ranch, and the Lincoln Motel, along with the requisite notice to save your appetite for a free 72 oz. steak dinner in Amarillo.

The Indian Nations Turnpike, built after Ladybird's Law, had no signs. This meant there was nothing to entice a passing traveler to venture off the highway, no indication that, for example, the McAlester exit could lead him to a land of hearty Okie-style Italian food. A traveler wouldn't know anything about available service stations or accommodations that might be just a few hundred yards away from the turnpike.

For kids, the Highway Beautification Act meant no practical way to play the Alphabet Game.

At some point, states began posting official exit services signs, with little logos to notify the traveler of available restaurants, gas stations, and motels. Of course, this favored the chains as well: An out-of-state motorist would know exactly what to expect from seeing a McDonald's or Cracker Barrel logo, but a logo isn't enough for a local cafe to tell you about its chicken fried steaks and pies.

(Then there was the case of the Okie Gal Restaurant in California, which wasn't even allowed space on the exit services sign because the highway department deemed "Okie" a derogatory term.)

Ron praises Lady Bird's work on behalf of wildflowers, as does Joshua Trevino, writing at National Review Online. You could see the wildflower and anti-sign initiatives as consistent, both favoring the natural over the man-made, but there is also something contradictory about them: Wildflowers are a kind of rebellion of local color against the monotony and standardization of a perfectly green, perfectly manicured right-of-way. But ads along the highway are also a splash of local color, a hint about the distinctive qualities of the next town and the people who live there.

Marvin Olasky mentions in passing another example of the damage caused by "beautifiers":

Coney Island, part of New York City, is famous in American literature and film. In "The Great Gatsby," Gatsby invites Nick to go to Coney Island, and in Clara Bow's 1927 silent film "It," the neighborhood's amusement park is practically a co-star. After 1950, though, waves of officials such as New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses looked down on the "tawdry" amusements that characterized the boardwalk area. They pulled strings to substitute tawdry housing projects that became gang havens.

Coney Island went through bad decades, but even bureaucrats can't take away the ocean, and the beachfront location has inspired some entrepreneurs to ignore planners' sandcastles and attempt to develop new small businesses and privately owned housing.

Tulsa has had its share of destructive "beautifiers": The barrenness of the Civic Center, the Williams Center, and the OSU-Tulsa campus parking lots are their legacies.

Plaza sweet

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To go back to an entry from last Tuesday, if Tulsa's Civic Center Plaza is a bad example of a public space -- in fact is one of many examples of failed plazas that can be found across the country, even in major pedestrian-friendly cities like Boston -- what makes for a good public space?

Back in the 1970s, architect Christopher Alexander and his team set out to identify successful design patterns in the construction of homes, neighborhoods, and cities. One of the patterns was called "Small Public Squares":

A town needs public squares; they are the largest, most public rooms, that a town has. but when they are too large, they look and feel deserted.

The solution was to keep the square to a maximum width of 70 feet. A square could be any length, but the width should be "smaller than you would first imagine." I've seen wider public squares that are successful -- for example, most of Savannah's squares are about 180 feet across on the narrow side, but the space is shaded by tall live oaks, broken up with grass, paths, fountains, and statuary, and every point in the square is with in eyeshot and earshot of the nearest street.

During our trip to Britain, we came across one very lively public square in the City of Durham. On Saturday afternoon, it was packed with people visiting market booths in the square and visiting the shops along the square and in neighboring streets. There was a small teacup ride for children. You could buy candy floss and other treats. The square, about 90 feet wide and 150 feet long, was defined on two sides by buildings with storefronts and the other two sides by narrow streets (at most 15 feet across), with buildings and storefronts on the other side.



"Village Sunday"

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Sorry for the recent silence. The 24-hour bug that has been going around town hit our family, too. The toddler had it on Tuesday night, his big brother and sister and mom got it Thursday night, and I had it Friday night. Saturday was a day of quiet recuperation -- everyone was past the worst, and we all lazed around, read, and watched TV.

On YouTube, I just came across a 1960 documentary about Greenwich Village, narrated by author and raconteur Jean Shepherd (the writer and narrator of the classic movie "A Christmas Story"). "Village Sunday" follows a white-gloved young matron from uptown as she explores the Village on a sunny September Sunday afternoon. She stops by a folk music jam session at the Circle in Washington Square, sits for a portrait at a sidewalk art show, negotiates a cobblestone street in heels, tries an Italian sausage at the Feast of San Gennaro, and has listens to a beat poet in a coffee house.

(Mild content warning -- there is some Picasso-type nudity painted on the walls of the coffee house toward the end of the film.)

As I watched the film, it occurred to me that this was the Greenwich Village that Jane Jacobs and others were working so hard to save. Jacobs began work on The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1958, and it was published in 1961. (Over the same period, a strongly anti-urban comprehensive plan for Tulsa was under development.)

Here's one more YouTube video for your enjoyment. Earworms are nothing new. The Hut-Sut Song was a hit in 1941 (you can hear an instrumental version in one of the kitchen scenes of "A Christmas Story"), with its peppy melody and mangled Swedish lyrics. This soundie spoofs the song's infectious quality and features the King's Men, a quartet who performed regularly on the popular "Fibber McGee and Molly" radio show.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from July 2007.

Cities: May 2007 is the previous archive.

Cities: September 2007 is the next archive.

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