Cities: March 2010 Archives

I wasn't able to attend the March 23, 2010, TMAPC hearing in person, but I watched the last hour or so of the hearing on The on-demand version should be posted in a couple of days.

I submitted an email comment in response to an impassioned speech that seemed to be suggesting we could have a unanimously shared comprehensive plan if only we jettisoned the particulars that might upset one faction or another. Here's what I said:

"It is not possible to draft a plan with meaning and substance that will satisfy everyone. Surely [the speaker] would not want to delete all language in PLANiTULSA about sustainability and mixed-use development to satisfy conspiracy theorists who believe these terms mean Tulsa would be enslaved to the whims of an oppressive, UN-led one-world government. Likewise, we shouldn't begin jettisoning key components of this plan or severely limiting other components just to calm the irrational fears of some excitable members of Tulsa's development community.

"As a planning commission adopting a master plan for Tulsa's future development, you would be failing Tulsa if you allow this long-term vision and plan to be held hostage by a few voices motivated mainly by their own short-term gain.

"I agree strongly with homebuilder Will Wilkins' comments that Tulsa's development community can work successfully within this new plan, just as they have worked successfully under our existing comprehensive plan. There isn't any planning or land use concept in PLANiTULSA that hasn't already been successfully implemented in many other cities in the US."

Further arguments against jettisoning parts of the plan in hopes of unanimous consensus:

At this point in the process, anything TMAPC changes to make one faction happy is likely to make another faction upset.

There is an interconnectedness to elements of the plan, an internal consistency and cohesion. If key elements of the plan are removed, that cohesion begins to unravel.

I truly believe that, despite the fears of the homebuilders, the plan as released is a win-win for developers along with the rest of Tulsa. It opens the door to types of development not currently possible, and it reduces burdensome process and regulation.

I thought back to a comment by a developer during the 1998-9 infill task force. It may have been Joe Westervelt, who was at the time one of Susan Savage's appointees to the TMAPC. The gist of the comment was that if Tulsa had design guidelines for commercial districts like Brookside, national retailers wouldn't want to locate here. They have a standard building and site plan and that's all they want to build -- so the thinking goes.

But anyone who has traveled has seen national chains that have adapted their stores to meet the required characteristics. I've seen examples of McDonalds, Walgreens, Barnes and Noble, Wendy's, Kroger, Publix, and CVS designed to fit into a walkable urban environment. Tulsa needs to have as much self-esteem as our peer cities.

Regarding the plan to reopen public comments following a March 31 meeting by the TMAPC: The Tulsa Metro Chamber is trying to claim credit, but they had nothing to do with it. In fact, this is good for ordinary Tulsans, since before the public hearing is reopened, we'll see what kind of amendments to the plan the TMAPC will approve. Then we'll have the opportunity to persuade and rebut after those amendments are on the table.

Before coming to Tulsa, Fregonese Associates consulted on a new comprehensive plan for Denver, called Blueprint Denver. It's interesting to see that some of what the homebuilders want excised from PLANiTULSA was adopted in Denver. On the main Blueprint Denver page, the following is listed as the first of three major themes (emphasis added):

Blueprint_denver_Cover.jpgAreas of Change and Areas of Stability. Direct growth to Areas of Change while preserving the character of Areas of Stability. Areas of Stability include the vast majority of Denver and are primarily the fairly stable residential neighborhoods where no significant changes in land use are expected over the next twenty years. The goal is to maintain the character of these areas and accommodate some new development and redevelopment that maintains the vitality of the area. The majority of new development will be directed to Areas of Change; areas that will benefit from, and thrive on, an infusion of population, economic activity and investment. These areas include the new growth areas of Lowry, Stapleton, the Gateway area, downtown, around transit stations, and along major street and/or transportation corridors.

From the Small Area Plan page (emphasis added):

A small area plan is any plan that addresses the issues of a portion of the city. Small area plans can cover three different geographic scales -- neighborhood, corridor, and district. They can cover as few as 10 acres or as many as 4,500 acres. Small area plans cover a specific geography that often has a cohesive set of characteristics. The result can be a richly detailed plan that addresses the area's unique issues with tailored solutions.

There are three major types of Small Area Plans:

  • Station Area Plans (learn more at
  • Neighborhood Plans
  • Corridor Plans
Criteria for selecting areas for Small Area Plans:

  • Evidence of disinvestment, deteriorating housing, and high vacancy, unemployment and poverty rates.
  • Significant change is occurring or anticipated.
  • Public facilities and/or physical improvements need to be addressed.
  • Opportunities for substantial infill or redevelopment are present.
  • Opportunities arise to influence site selection, development or major expansion of a single large activity generator.
  • Transit station development opportunities.

Also important are criteria that more specifically address the goals of Blueprint Denver:

  • Creating opportunity for appropriate development in Areas of Change.
  • Stabilizing conditions that threaten Areas of Stability.
  • Promoting public investment that increase transportation choice.
Chapter 8 of Blueprint Denver covers Small Area Planning in depth. The idea is to have a standardized process and set of tools to handle planning for a specific area. Pp. 154-155 describes a list of tools for implementing small area plans, including regulatory tools:


  • Zoning tools include:
  • Keep zoning as is
  • Amend language in code
  • Rezone selected parcels to a new district
  • Apply fundamental overlay zones -- e.g. transit or pedestrian overlay
  • Utilize a specific overlay zone district
  • Evaluate the need for additional development guidelines review

Landmark district

For those buildings or districts with architectural, historical or geographical significance, a landmark district may be recommended to provide protection from demolition or inappropriate remodeling.

View protection

A view of downtown or the mountains from a point in an important public place can be recommended for protection through a view preservation ordinance.
Denver is a growing, healthy city, and it seems to be doing all right with a small area planning process that can be applied (by means of zoning) to both areas of change and areas of stability.

Blair Humphreys posts an excellent comment on an excellent discussion at Steve Lackmeyer's OKC Central blog:

I agree with the thesis that cities NEED to be designed. Of course, the rub comes when you decide things like: designed how, by whom, and to what end.

In Oklahoma City we have favored design through top-down measures utilizing the planning/design talent of renowned consultants, trusted (almost revered) our "infallible" traffic engineers, and depended on the benevolent motivations and decision-making of small groups of powerful businessmen.

More often than not, this has led to: the destruction of our urban heritage in favor of alien models of urbanity, a move away from walkable urban form in favor of an autocentric city with a street infrastructure that is grossly over capacity (and without streetlife), and the allocation of resources towards major public improvements and economic development programs that consistently ignore quality of life concerns.
I think we should shift the way we "design" our city in this way:

Designed how? Through an open public process that includes access to information, free exchange of ideas, and a thoughtful discourse.

Designed by whom? By multidisciplinary teams of professionals and amateurs working at the direction of citizens that choose to be engaged in the process. The size of this "engaged community" will depend on the scale of the plan, but the more local the better.

To what end? To whatever end the community decides. For me, I want to enhance the quality of life in OKC both now and for future generations - with priority on the future. And build back a downtown that offers a true urban lifestyle.

Some of this is happening now. Some members of our planning staff are doing incredible work in neighborhoods throughout the city, and the Oklahoma Main Street program has done a tremendous job in places like the Plaza District and Stockyard City. Also, a few local developers - notably Midtown Renaissance & Steve Mason's 9th street - have embraced historic areas and given local businesses a shot, and in the process created some of the most popular places in the city.

That said, for the most part our city continues to be "designed" by transportation engineers and the results are evidence enough that they have little understanding of their role in creating good urban form (thought they clearly know something about short commute times). And our historic model of power broker decision-making is still ingrained, no matter how much rhetoric you might hear about most "public", "transparent", "democratic", etc. Often, one wonders, whether our spending is really thought to be in the best interest of the city and really in the direction desired by the community.

Until there is a process that values the contributions and criticisms of our citizenry, OKC will fall short of its potential.

Interesting comments, too, from Philip Morris, on urban design in Birmingham, Orlando, and Nashville:

FYI, the City of Birmingham (truly a center city wrapped by close suburbs) used urban renewal only for UAB expansion, but in the 1980′established more than 20 design review districts overseen by a single board with guidelines written with imput from property owners (who must organize and formally request the designation before public improvements are made). They are titled "Commercial Revitalization District" and do just about everything you would in a local historic district -- but without the red flag name. Incrementally adds up over time, but only where the economic base supports development....

All: Good to read so many interesting ideas about Classen Boulevard. I never fail to drive it when I'm back visiting family. It has great movement and changing views, not usual in your grid. Certainly worth your attention. FYI, Orlando Planning Director Rick Bernhardt changed codes there 15 or 20 years ago to require that all typical strip buildings front thoroughfares with parking to the side and rear. He's now planning director for Nashville metro government and over the past 8 years or so has transformed their approach with overlay districts. Google City of Nashville Planning and click Urban Design if you want to see these. Classen could use an overlay with different requirements for different stretches but an overall boulevard landscape to tie things together. Rick does a very good presentation on this if there were an occasion to bring him there. Also: I found the ULI video on City of Oklahoma City site under planning. A good reality-check on Core to Shore plans.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from March 2010.

Cities: February 2010 is the previous archive.

Cities: April 2010 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?]