Tulsa Zoning: January 2009 Archives

Urban link dump

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Here are a bunch of links to items of note about cities:

Blair Humphreys looks at urban density and finds some surprising stats: The Los Angeles urbanized area is the most densely populated in the nation. Oklahoma City and Boston have the same density, about 900 people per km2. (Again, this is urbanized area and includes suburbs, but excludes undeveloped areas.)

In another recent post, Blair reviews the Oklahoma City government website and offers suggestions for improvements that will increase public participation. The 2nd coolest idea: Google-map agenda items. The coolest idea: Let citizens draw areas of interest on a map, then register to be notified whenever an agenda item for any committee falls within that area. We have the technology.... (A commenter notes that OKC's adoption of Accela software for permitting has been helpful for everyone involved in the process.)

Steve Patterson has been delving back into the history of urban design in St. Louis and writes, "I'm beginning to get a greater understanding about why planners from the past did what they did. The problem is a solution to a 1920s problem was not only the solution at the time but for decades to follow -- passed down from one generation to the next without anyone questioning why or if the problem being solved still existed." He has a chart showing how attitudes have changed toward issues like one-way streets, on-street parking, building height and setbacks.

As an example of changing trends in urban design, Steve has posted a document from the early 1970s, a history of St. Louis' urban renewal program. I've just skimmed it, but I'm struck by how early the city began clearing land and relocating people. Steve notes that two of the renewal projects celebrated by this document have since been demolished.

One more from Steve, and it's applicable to Tulsa, too: St. Louis' Outdated Zoning Mandates Excessive Parking.

Nick Roberts is working on a class project: Putting together a historic preservation plan for an area in Lawton. "Obviously Lawton's situation is unique, as a urban renewal-aspiring army town that already tore down pretty much anything worth preserving in the 60s. The challenges are high, but the potential is higher. Good stuff, and I look forward to posting it up." Lawton replaced much of its historic downtown with a suburban indoor mall, complete with vast parking lots.

Steve Lackmeyer has a neat picture: The owners of a five-story warehouse in Oklahoma City's Bricktown have fixed the lighting on the vacant upper floors so that they can light them up at night. As Steve notes, it's "a rare sight in Bricktown - the appearance of life above the second floor."

Charles G. Hill follows up on an earlier post about William Hudnut's idea of increasing taxes on land and decreasing taxes on improvments -- an emptiness tax. Charles points to a critique of Hudnut's idea at Market Urbanism, where the unintended consequences are considered.

Dan Weber, a senior at the University of Tulsa, has a column in the school's student newspaper, The Collegian, about the impact of TU's campus expansion and its efforts to attract more residential students on its relationship with the city from which it takes its name:

[The class of 2009 has] lived out our four years in a transitional setting, hemmed in by orange barrels, while the administration finally realized its long-awaited opportunity to recast the campus image.

Now construction is essentially complete (since the financial crisis has remaining projects on hiatus) and we're finally inhabiting the more residential and attractive campus that's supposed to aid TU's obstinate struggle to breach the hallowed U.S. News Top 50.

We seniors, then, are uniquely able to appreciate what the campus has gained and lost in the process to attract all those precious National Merit Scholars.

TU has lost a sense of belonging to Tulsa and gained the feeling of a glorified boarding school for students from Texas and Missouri.

Weber mentions Starship Records and the Metro Diner, once on 11th St but demolished to make way for TU's new grand entrance on 11th St., the University having decided that its grand entrance on Delaware Ave. (the U) was no longer grand enough. Weber calls the two businesses "Tulsa institutions that meant more to locals than the view of the Collins Hall fountain ever will."

The clich├ęd complaint that spurred the Chapman Commons "front door" project was that traveling along 11th Street, those unfamiliar with the campus wouldn't be able to recognize that they were adjacent to a university.

Since 11th also happens to be midtown's leg of Route 66, TU was squandering a golden opportunity to latch onto the mythos of the Mother Road. Ironically, now gazing upon Chapman Commons one wouldn't immediately recognize that they were adjacent to Route 66.

I'd encourage Mr. Weber to dig deeper into the history of TU's relationship with the city and its immediate neighbors. Until ORU opened its doors in 1965, TU was the only institution of higher learning in the city. Tulsa didn't have any sort of state-funded higher ed until Tulsa Junior College (TJC) in 1969.

Before then, TU was Tulsa's only college. It was the place where Tulsans went to college because they could live with their folks and save money while they earned a degree. TU's stadium was built for and at one time owned by the public school system, for use by the high school athletic program as well as the Golden Hurricane. The TU baseball team played at Oiler Park; the basketball team played at the county's Fairgrounds Pavilion and then at the city's Assembly Center. The law school was downtown across the street from Trinity Episcopal Church. The engineering school was up on N. Lewis.

50 years ago, the main campus was contained between 5th and 7th, Delaware and Gary, surrounded by neighborhoods on all sides. Businesses and churches scattered around the neighborhoods catered to students and locals alike. At some point, in the late '50s or early '60s, the single family neighborhoods around campus were rezoned to allow apartments. One house at a time was cleared to be replaced with a single-story strip of four or five small apartments.

As the neighborhood lost its integrity, it made it easy for officials to label it blighted, in need of urban renewal. The city could then use its power of eminent domain to take land that TU wanted for expansion and sell it to the college for redevelopment.

TU might have continued on its original course, scattering facilities around central Tulsa, integrating its students in the life of the city. That's been a successful model for the Savannah College of Art and Design, which has classrooms and student housing all over the city's historic district, enlivening the city with students and renovating historic buildings in the process.

Instead TU's leaders wanted a typical integrated, isolated campus, and they had governmental muscle at their disposal to make sure they got the land they wanted.

TU has many great academic programs, but it is no longer the sole option for higher ed for Tulsans, not by a long shot. It's certainly not the most affordable. If there were ever justification for the city to assist a private college with its expansion needs, that justification is no longer valid.

(Hat tip to Route 66 News.)

Tonight's Northland and Forest Orchard small-area workshops for PLANiTULSA have been postponed and will be rescheduled for a later date. Keep an eye on the PLANiTULSA website for details and weather updates regarding Wednesday's Southwest Tulsa workshop

A group of urban planners from the Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD) is in Tulsa today looking at the city's most significant brownfield: The Evans Electric and Fintube plants, which are located east of OSU-Tulsa, north of Archer St., between the BNSF (formerly AT&SF) tracks and US 75. The group will present their recommendations this afternoon at 4 at City Hall. From the press release:

During the three-day visit, the panel will study the Evans-Fintube site, a local development opportunity site located at North Lansing Avenue and East Archer Street. This City-owned site borders the Crutchfield neighborhood, OSU-Tulsa, Lansing Business Center, and downtown.

The panel will also meet with local stakeholders and develop planning recommendations for the site, based on this community input process. The MICD Resource Team will present their recommendations for the Evans-Fintube site to the public on Tuesday, January 13, 2009 from 4:00 - 5:30 p.m., in the 10th Floor North Conference Room of City Hall at One Technology Center.

Tulsa is one of four cities to receive a grant to participate in the MICD Alumni Technical Assistance Program. The Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD) is a partnership program of the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation, and the United States Conference of Mayors. Since 1986, the Mayors' Institute has helped transform communities through design by preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities. The program is dedicated to improving the design and livability of America's cities.

The MICD Resource Team includes Ron Bogle, CEO & President, American Architectural Foundation; Maurice Cox, Director of Design, National Endowment for the Arts; Jess Zimbabwe, AIA, AICP, LEED-AP, Director, Mayors' Institute on City Design; Elizabeth Blazevich, Special Projects Manager, Mayors' Institute on City Design; Angie Brooks, Principal, Pugh+Scarpa Architects, Santa Monica, CA; Phil Erickson, AIA, Principal, Community Design + Architecture, Oakland, CA; and Laura Solano, ASLA, Principal, MMVA Inc., Boston, MA.

I'm intrigued by one line in the description of the group: "preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities." It's hard to imagine a mayor in that role, but there's no question that the mayor has the authority to have an enormous impact on urban design. The mayor appoints planning commissioners, oversees code enforcement officials and the departments responsible for infrastructure development. As I noted in my column this week, we need elected officials who can balance a variety of concerns, rather than deferring to lower-level unelected functionaries.

To look at it another way, every department and interest group has its own narrow view. The fire marshal wants to prevent fires. The impact of fire prevention rules on historic preservation or the economic value of a building are secondary concerns in his mind. Traffic planners want to move cars -- pedestrian-friendliness comes later, if at all. Developers just want to get their project done and their lender paid back. Homeowners are trying to protect their quality of life and the long-term value of their homes. Everyone thinks his own concerns are paramount.

You need someone in charge of city government who can see the big picture, who can balance various concerns and then direct the lower-level departments so that everyone is pulling together in the same direction.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Zoning category from January 2009.

Tulsa Zoning: December 2008 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Zoning: February 2009 is the next archive.

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