Cities: July 2010 Archives

Recent articles of interest on urban policy, both in Tulsa and elsewhere:

TU in 2010

Daniel Jeffries posts a map of the present-day University of Tulsa campus, comparing it to a map from the 1960s, showing the removal of the street grid over the last half century, and adding this comment:

TU continues to degrade the surrounding urban neighborhoods by destroying access points to the campus, reducing the number of streets within the campus itself, built an 8-foot-tall fence around the entire campus, tearing down homes and forcing traffic onto just a few streets.

This mindless policy of destruction serves no good and shows a huge lack of forethought, planning, and is extremely reckless.

It should be noted that the expansion of TU, a private university, has been greatly facilitated by the City's use of eminent domain.

Along the same topic of street connectivity: Redsneakz commented here a while back on my link to an op-ed about transit-oriented development around Tysons Corner in Fairfax County, Va. He's written two posts: The Problem with Tysons Corner and More on Tysons and central Fairfax. The Metro extension, he writes, won't fix what's wrong:

What we don't have in our "fair city" is cross streets. What we do have are large loop roads circling the area. They're almost all four lane roads, with relatively few traffic signals, all of which leads to traffic traveling at fairly dangerous (to pedestrians) speeds. The office buildings are all "campus style," which means that the developers made large buildings with extensive above-ground parking areas and largely uncontrolled egress onto these surface roads, with some amount of greenspace thrown in for aesthetic reasons. The greatest number of these office buildings is north of Route 7.

Part one of the redesign plan is to extend Metro out as far as Dulles Airport, with an initial phase having four stops within Tysons. This seems like a pretty good idea, because you can basically eliminate a couple of thousand cars per day entering the traffic sink that is Tysons, and people can actually walk to their jobs... uh, hold on. Walking around the area is incovenient at best, and dangerous at worst.

In the second piece, he notes that NoVa's traffic problems are out of proportion to the area's population:

For sheer number of traffic jams, neither LA nor New York can really be beat, at least here in the US.... But here's the thing; the New York Metro Area has something on the order of 19 million people living there; Los Angeles Metropolitan area, 17 million....

Metropolitan DC, by contrast, has a population of 4 million or so, yet the traffic here is infamously bad. Every workday, without exception, the western and northern quadrants of I-495 are pretty much rock solid bad traffic. Unsurprisingly, the focus of the bad traffic, on this section of highway, is Tysons Corner....

Poor planning is a big part of the problem. One possible relief route across the Potomac was eliminated by default:

Policy decisions, though, allowed subdivisions to be created on the Virginia side nearly up to the 100 year flood mark, and a golf course on the Maryland side, right at the optimal crossing point. That bridge could have been the anchor of a long dreamed of Outer Beltway, linking Maryland Route 28 to the Fairfax County Parkway.


Speaking of planning, Oklahoma City's Blair Humphreys has a piece in the Oklahoma Gazette about the launch of Oklahoma City's comprehensive plan update, called planOKC.

The most recent plan, created in 1977 and last updated in 2000, set out to preserve and revitalize existing neighborhoods and improve the efficiency of the continued outward suburban growth. And the most recent update in 2000, perhaps following the lessons learned from MAPS, added a commitment to revitalizing the city's central core.

While these plans have certainly had an impact on Oklahoma City's growth and development, there is a significant difference between what we have planned to do, and what we have actually done.

For instance, although the 1977 plan focused on preservation and called for efficient growth, the development that has occurred over the past 33 years ostensibly runs counter to those objectives. Since 1977, our population has increased by 40 percent, but land development has occurred at approximately two-and-a-half times the rate of population growth. And in order to provide "convenient" access to this scattered development, we have expanded our street network at a frenetic pace, increasing the amount of paved right-of-way by 275 percent during the same period.

Brian J. Noggle starts with wayfinding signs in Springfield, Mo., and winds up with a comment on the propagation of urban improvement fads and the irony that proponents of local exceptionalism are often advocates of copycat solutions:

I can't be the only one to notice that candidates for office often stress that they've lived in an area all their lives and know the solutions the region needs, and then they go on a junket-I mean fact-finding mission or conference trip-to some fabulous location and come back with a bunch of imported ways to spend money to make this city look like thatcity.

Charles G. Hill links to Noggle's item and notes:

We have no shortage of would-be hipster urbanists who want this town to look exactly like [fill in name of municipal role model] -- only completely different.

Amy Alkon features a video about an unattended, automated parking garage in Budapest. Very cool, and something similar was built in Hoboken, New Jersey, some years ago; local blogger Mister Snitch covered at length the political complications affecting the project. And here's a story on about a 2009 malfunction at the garage.

There's a tube station on the 3rd floor of a London office building, part of a training center for London Underground.

Oklahoma City has a new museum. Retro Metro OKC was launched recently, an online archive of Oklahoma City history, devoted to making artifacts and images of the city's past more readily accessible to the public via the Internet. Its mission statement:

Retro Metro OKC is dedicated to educating the community and its visitors about local history by collecting, preserving, displaying and interpreting materials reflecting the heritage of Oklahoma City.

And from the "about us" page:

RetroMetroOKC was started in September, 2009 by a group of history enthusiasts wishing to better promote and tell the history of the greater Oklahoma City metro and to support and work with like-minded organizations whenever possible. We are dedicated to making history fun and accessible to all. The founding group consists of historians, authors, urban planners, attorneys, real estate professionals, videographers and designers with ages ranging from 17 to 70.

I see some familiar names on the founders' roster: Oklahoman reporter and blogger Steve Lackmeyer (president of the organization), Jack Money (reporter and co-author with Lackmeyer of two books on Oklahoma City history, and co-founder of, Doug Loudenback (who has singlehandedly created a great web resource on Oklahoma City history), urban planner Blair Humphreys.

A Retro Metro OKC press release (via Dustbury) explains how the collection will be built:

Retro Metro OKC operates differently from other organizations in that we have no museum, we have no physical collections, and in most instances the materials we display remain in private ownership. In a typical situation our volunteer crews go to a home or business to scan an owner's collection and the owner participates in the project by sharing information about the photos and documents as they are being scanned. The materials never have to leave an owner's possession -- the owner is simply asked to sign a release that allows for the materials to be displayed online.

The owner of such materials is given a disc of the digitized images and documents -- and copies also will be given to the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Metropolitan Library System to ensure they will be preserved for future generations.

This is exciting. It's a great way to collect and display historical information, and I look forward to seeing the collection grow. I'd love to be a part of such an effort here in Tulsa. So much material is already in the possession of the Tulsa Historical Society (photographs, ephemera, and artifacts, including the massive Beryl Ford Collect), the Tulsa Library system (vertical files, old government documents), INCOG (historical aerial photos and maps), the City of Tulsa (permits, ordinances, maps) -- but it needs to be digitized, categorized, and organized online in some form. The Retro Metro OKC folks were wise enough to realize that no one person, no one organization could tackle the job alone.

Nevertheless, I'm thankful for the all the local Tulsa history that is already available online. Tulsa Gal has been posting photos and ads from the Official Book of Tulsa in Pictures, a special publication for the 1927 International Petroleum Exposition and Tulsa State Fair. Her July archive contains all six parts of her Tulsa 1927 series.

Some of the most interesting aspects of these photos are the incidental details that are captured, details that would have been routine at the time, not noteworthy, but which are fascinating today. James Lileks calls this phenomenon "inadvertent documentary." For example: Go through the Tulsa 1927 posts and count how many times you see streetcar tracks, streetcar wires, or an actual streetcar.

Tulsa Gal also posts a regular photo trivia question on the Tulsa Historical Society Facebook page.

About this Archive

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

Cities: June 2010 is the previous archive.

Cities: August 2010 is the next archive.

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