Cities: November 2008 Archives

For the first time in many years, Tulsa will have a downtown ice rink, for a month anyway. It's a nice idea, but the implementation doesn't seem to have been well thought out.

Rather than put it somewhere with nearby activity, they've put the rink on the backside of the BOKarena, blocking off Frisco Ave. between 2nd and 3rd Street, thus rendering the 2nd Street exit all but useless for getting into downtown. You can only turn north on Frisco, and then you have to turn west on 1st. There's a way to get headed back to the east and into downtown, but it's not easy to find or to describe.

The area is windy and treeless and bordered by the Trigen plant (they provide steam to older downtown buildings that still use steam heat), the BOKarena, and the Federal Building. No retail, no restaurants nearby. (They will have concessions and port-a-potties.) No synergy with other centers of downtown activity -- which is the problem with the BOKarena location to begin with.

Too bad they couldn't have put this on part of the big parking lot between 1st and 2nd east of Elgin.

It's been compared to Rockefeller Center, but the real Rockefeller Center rink is surrounded by stores and restaurants, in the heart of a busy pedestrian area, not on the backside of a squashed tin can.

Oklahoma City has an outdoor rink, too, but it has a nicer backdrop -- the Civic Center Music Hall. And while it's not close to the heart of downtown life, it's just a block or so from the art museum and the library. Other "Downtown in December" activities will be happening in Bricktown.

From St. Louis, Steve Patterson reminds us that "only failed spaces require 'programming'":

"Programming" is one of those catch words used by many to indicate events like festivals, concerts, bazaars and such. These are often suggested for spaces that otherwise have little to no natural active users...

Having a concert in an urban space doesn't mean it has failed as a space. But having to bring events to otherwise seldom used space is a good sign it is a failed environment....

We need to not rely on "programming" spaces and simply design better space. Of course, "bold" "world-class" "statements" are often among the worse spaces.

Downtown St Louis has an enormous amount of acreage tied up in space that needs programming to attract anyone. But programming is expensive and it takes a lot of work. One of the best un-programmed spaces
in our city is Soulard Market. Whenever they are open you will see people. It is a great place for people watching.

Most farmers' markets are great. They are not programming -- they are commerce. Bring food to the city from the country is an old tradition. People may go to Soulard Market and buy very little but still leave enriched.

The former 14th Street Pedestrian Mall in Old North St Louis is another example of a poorly designed space. The once active street was deliberately killed off in the name of saving it. It failed big time. Work is nearing completion to reopen the street.

Whenever you hear anyone suggest "programming" for a space be wary. It is a red flag the space needs more than three concerts in the summer.

Failed spaces are made up of dead patterns. Lively patterns, places that are connected to other places, attract people in a self-sustaining way, through normal activity, without the need for special programming.

RELATED: Interesting correlation between downtown parking, employment, and liveliness:

You see, the deadest downtowns have the best, cheapest, most available parking. An international study by Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy (1999) analyzed downtown parking levels in 32 cities. They were hunting for a correlation between a city's livability and amount of parking in downtowns. One could hypothesize that, the less of the built environment of a downtown area that remains, and the more parking that has replaced it, the less active it is; the less safe it is; the less attractive it is; and so on.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about what we can learn about urban design from the commercial success of painter Thomas Kinkade:

Thomas Kinkade seems to understand that places--houses and shops, landscapes and streetscapes--have the ability to touch the heart. In his choice of subjects and his depiction of main streets, neighborhoods, country cottages, townhouses, and bungalows, he strikes a chord with the viewer.

His cinematic suggestions brought to mind what architect Christopher Alexander called the "Timeless Way of Building."

This timeless way expresses itself in patterns in the way we make a town or a building.

Every building, neighborhood, town, and city is constructed from a collection of patterns. Alexander observed that some patterns are living and some are dead. The ones that are living are those that connect in some way with human nature--they attract people, making them feel at home and alive.

Dead patterns repel people, making them feel ill at ease and restless. A place shaped by dead patterns becomes neglected and uncared for and attracts trash, decay, and crime.

In the book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, Alexander and his colleagues identified and gave names to 253 lively patterns that appear to be timeless, recurring across cultures and centuries. Kinkade's suggestions to his filmmakers echo many of these patterns: Pools of Light, Magic of the City, Four-Story Limit, Paths and Goals, Warm Colors, Street Windows, Shielded Parking.

Supplemental links:

My column in this week's UTW is a recap of the National Preservation Conference, which came to Tulsa back in late October. Below are some blog entries with reactions from conference staff and other conference attendees, but first I want to spotlight a blog I've just recently learned about: Rex and Jackie Brown are fans of mid-century modern architecture, and they post photos of buildings of that sort from around Oklahoma on their blog, Oklahoma Modern.

I've got some photos from the conference, too, and I'll get those uploaded and linked here sometime this weekend.

Here are those links:

PreservationNation: Tulsa Poster Presentations: Phillips 66 Stations: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

PreservationNation: Plenary, Reception Officially Open the National Preservation Conference

PreservationNation: The Old and the New: Native Americans and Preservation

PreservationNation: Video: Charles Stevens Dilbeck - The Tulsa Homes

PreservationNation: Breaktime in Tulsa: Exhibit Hall Offers Treats, Information

PreservationNation: The Tall, the Ornate, and the Sacred: Strolling Through Downtown Tulsa

PreservationNation: Rehab Solutions for Aging Moderns

PreservationNation: Candlelight House Tour Puts Tulsa Hospitality on Display

PreservationNation: Two Trust Bloggers Treat Themselves to a Day Trip to Bartlesville

PreservationNation: Tulsa Poster Presentations: Making an Impression, Poster-Style

PreservationNation: Preservation Round Up: Fall at Lincoln's Cottage, House Museums, Post-Katrina Homes

PreservationNation: Going Green Tulsa Style: Final Thoughts on the National Preservation Conference

PreservationNation: 1950/60s Neighborhoods... What to Save and Lose?

1950/60s Neighborhoods... What to Save and Lose? | Teardown Post

PreservationNation: Tulsa's Closing Plenary Looks at Historical Narratives, Need for Preservation Laws

Tips for Better Boards « National Trust Historic Sites Weblog

House Museums and Ultimate Use « Time Tells

Oklahoma Business Q&A with Richard Moe | NewsOK.com

National Trust For Historic Preservation Press Website - Press Releases

Destination Tulsa Conference is a first for Oklahoma

National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Preservation Conference Runs from Oct. 21-25, 2008 in Tulsa, Oklahoma

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from November 2008.

Cities: October 2008 is the previous archive.

Cities: December 2008 is the next archive.

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