Tulsa Zoning: November 2008 Archives

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:

The Mental Health Association in Tulsa, an organization that is being used as a tool by the downtown NIMBYs in their (futile) efforts to clear the chronically homeless and mentally ill out of downtown, is threatening to sic Uncle Sam on homeowners who are protesting MHAT's plans to build a four-story apartment complex for the chronically homeless and mentally ill at Admiral and Yale.

The homeowners' group, Who Owns Tulsa?, attempted to negotiate with MHAT and the Tulsa Housing Authority to reach a compromise that would allow a facility to be built on the site, but on a smaller scale, comparable to similar facilities that already exist in neighborhoods. Negotiations broke down, and in order to keep their legal options open, Who Owns Tulsa? filed an appeal to the building permit for the 10 N. Yale site. The proposed facility has been classified as an apartment building, but if it is in fact an assisted living facility or community group home (as it clearly seems to be), there are limits in the zoning code on floor-area ratio that may render the proposed facility too large for the site.

These homeowners are clearly within their rights under Oklahoma law to seek a reversal of a BOA decision and under the U. S. Constitution's First Amendment to petition the government for redress of grievances. But MHAT is threatening a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) -- trying to silence the homeowners by threatening them with prosecution under the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1988. This threat was made in a November 22 press release from MHAT's executive director Michael Brose:

"Past statements of Who Owns Tulsa? and the neighbors who have filed this appeal make clear that this is but one more attempt to block the construction of this building motivated by unreasonable fears of people with mental illness," said Brose. "Such efforts constitute a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1988." In similar cases individuals including neighbors have been found to have violated that federal law when they have sought to exclude the people protected by the Fair Housing Act from their neighborhoods. The Mental Health Association will be contacting the federal authorities who enforce those rights as well as looking at its other options under the law.

This is not an idle threat. During the Clinton Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) went after citizen groups who opposed group homes in their neighborhoods. For example:

In 1994 HUD launched an investigation of the members of the Irving Place Community Coalition, a group of New York City citizens opposed to placing another home for the mentally ill in a neighborhood already saturated with such homes. HUD investigators decided that the residents' civic activism was a crime and demanded membership lists, written messages, and other documents from the members -- and even demanded to see the personal diaries of people involved in the opposition. Arlene Harrison, a member of the Irving Place Coalition, observed: "It was like Big Brother coming to your door with a hammer."

In Berkeley, California, HUD officials in late 1993 issued a subpoena to three residents who had complained about plans to convert a ratty-looking motel next to a liquor store into a home for alcoholics and mentally disabled AIDS patients. A federally funded fair-housing activist organization complained to HUD about the group's action, and HUD launched a full-scale investigation of the three. In November 1993, HUD demanded to see any letters they had written to public officials or newspapers, any petitions, names, addresses, and phone numbers of anyone who had indicated support for the group's efforts. John Deringer, who lived next to the soon-to-be shelter complained: "We didn't feel we had done anything wrong, but we were very, very intimidated. The threat was we could be fined $100,000 and jailed if we didn't give them the information they wanted. It was chilling."

With the Clinton Administration coming back to power in January under their community organizer Chief Executive, don't be surprised to see HUD once again ready to use heavy-handed intimidation on behalf of the left-leaning social work community. Ironically, a majority of voters in precinct 37, the neighborhood most prominent in the Who Owns Tulsa? effort, voted for the presidential candidate most likely to cause them trouble over this issue.

If Mr. Brose were serious about fairness and justice for the homeless and mentally ill, he should file a Fair Housing Act complaint against the downtown NIMBYs who are forcibly removing these downtown residents from their familiar surroundings. He could start with John Bolton of the BOK Center and Jim Norton of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited. They both spoke at a BOA hearing to protest the expansion of John 3:16 Mission's downtown facility. There was even a lawsuit to overturn the BOA ruling in favor of John 3:16 Mission.

Shouldn't Mr. Brose go after the real NIMBYs first?

About this Archive

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

Tulsa Zoning: October 2008 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Zoning: December 2008 is the next archive.

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