Urban Tulsa Weekly: December 2005 Archives

An urban design reading list

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Late getting 'round to this, but here's a link to my column in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, with some recommended reading on urban design. As I wrote in the column:

Urban design and architecture are too important to be left to the professionals.

You and I may not have diplomas hanging on the wall, but we're experts in those fields, because we live, work, play, drive, and walk in the results of the design decisions made by others. We may not have the vocabulary to explain what we're experiencing, but we know what we like. We remember being in urban places that feel alive and exciting, places that feel comfortable, places that seem dead, places that seem foreboding. Some places invite you to linger, others make you feel like hurrying along to get some place else as quickly as possible.

Architects and urban planners can help the layman put words to his gut feelings about good and bad urban design, but some of the best books on urban design have been written by journalists, and I recommend three that I've found especially insightful and useful, plus a couple of books by an architect. (At the bottom of this entry, I've provided some links to supplemental reading.) The ideas in these books can help to equip you to participate more effectively in the public debate over urban design, zoning, and land use policy.

The current issue of UTW includes Barry Friedman's end-of-year Double Take on the Sooner State and the city's most comprehensive listing of New Year's Eve entertainment. Music writer G. K. Hizer provides his recommended list of places to ring in the New Year. (Here are links to the regular weekly listing of live music and events, which include some New Year's Events. There's a Western Swing dance and covered dish supper in Bixby that looks like fun, but I don't think my wife is up to two-stepping right now.) You'll need the dead-tree edition to get the full listing and all the ads.

Gretchen Collins has a story about the 6th Street Task Force and the exciting plans for remaking that area, particularly the creative ways they propose for dealing with the flooding problem in what is, after 20 years of stormwater improvements, still one of the city's last unimproved drainage basins.

Also, in the web edition this week (although I think it was in last week's print edition) is Barry Friedman's review of an uneventful City Council meeting.

Now for some supplemental links that go with this week's column:

Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language -- a summary of each of the patterns described in the book, and the connections between them.

The introduction to Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown

Jim Kunstler interviews Jane Jacobs -- two of the authors I list in my column.

The website of Jim Kunstler: If you can look beyond the use of foul words for emphasis, there's a lot of food for thought here. His "Eyesore of the Month" is a photo and commentary on an example of bad architecture or urban design, and the feature is coming up on its eighth anniversary. (This month, in the spirit of the holidays, he gives us a break and presents some positive examples.)

Not mentioned in the column is the website for the Project for Public Spaces, which is full of examples of parks, squares, plazas, and streetscapes that work well, with explanations of why they succeed at attracting people. (New York City's Bryant Park is a great example of a once-failed public space that is now thriving.) There are also examples of failed public spaces, like Boston's hideous City Hall Plaza, which replaced lively, unruly Scollay Square.

Hypnotic Vision

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This week I managed to lead off my Urban Tulsa Weekly column, about the urban design characteristics of the new downtown Tulsa arena, with a Monty Python reference.

UPDATE: Charles G. Hill comments: "Oklahoma City's Ford Center isn't particularly iconic either, but it's intended to fit into an existing urban environment, not to anchor a new one." Precisely. If the building works well as urban design, it doesn't matter if it's iconic.

I thought of another TV reference, as I was writing about iconic structures, like the Eiffel Tower and the U. S. Capitol, which serve as widely-recognized symbols of their cities. There was a Green Acres episode in which Oliver and Lisa were going to Washington, and everyone in Hooterville told them to be sure to see the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. Oliver would scoff in reply: "Those aren't in Washington!" At the end of the episode, Oliver and Lisa are in their Washington hotel room and Lisa flings open the curtains to reveal... the Eiffel Tower. Just one of those surreal moments that made Green Acres a classic.

Elsewhere in the latest issue of UTW:

Katharine Kelly doesn't care for Qdoba. I tried it the other night and didn't care for it much myself. The food was OK, but the decor was very barren, the lights were so bright you couldn't see out the window to Cherry Street, and (worst of all) the free Wi-Fi didn't work.

Gretchen Collins reviews Philbrook's special exhibit of the works of Thomas Moran, the great landscape painter of the American west. It only runs through New Year's Day, so don't delay.

Blue ribbon jeer

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This week's column is about the demise of the late, unlamented petition pushing for at-large members of the Tulsa City Council, and Bill LaFortune's new "Citizens' Commission," which appears to be intended to push the same agenda by other means.

Elsewhere in the current Urban Tulsa Weekly:

Have you wondered about the huge clouds of birds that swirl around and roost at sunset this time of year? The birds that are incredibly noisy and seem to love Bradford ornamental pear trees? Emily Berman has the scoop.

G. W. Schulz has a story about city employee unionization, with extensive quotes from City Councilors Martinson, Mautino, and Medlock on their reasons for their votes on the issue (Mautino voted yes, Medlock and Martinson voted no), from national and local representatives of AFSCME, the public sector employee union, and from one of the other Michael Bateses in town, Michael S. Bates, the city human resources director.

Apparently, I've been "allowed to hijack" the UTW op/ed page, or so says a letter writer named Joe Gaudet. Sir, if I could hijack an op/ed page, I'd have it fly me some place warm.

Links updated, October 28, 2017. Also, that letters page has a sharp note from Brandon Dutcher, who points out that "liberals often use the fig leaves of political activism to assuage their guilty consciences," citing Bill Clinton, Betty Friedan, Teddy Kennedy,
and, the most recent example, Brad Henry funding treatment for compulsive gamblers whom he enabled with his support for the lottery and Indian casinos.

An edited version of this column was published in the December 14, 2005, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is still online, courtesy of the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Here's my blog entry linking to the article. Posted October 28, 2017.

The at-large councilor petition appears to be dead, but supporters of representative democracy in Tulsa shouldn't rest easy just yet.

On Monday, December 4, the effort to dismember three City Council districts was put on hold. You'll recall that on October 20, a group with the misleading name of Tulsans for Better Government (TBG) began collecting signatures on an initiative petition for a City Charter amendment: Add to the Council three at-large "supercouncilors," elected citywide to four-year terms, and reduce the number of council districts from nine to six.

Just over halfway through the 90 days for gathering signatures, the petition wasn't catching fire with the general public. An opposition group, Tulsans Defending Democracy, quickly emerged, with support from Tulsans of all races, classes, and political views.

Also on Monday, December 4, Mayor Bill LaFortune announced the formation of a "Citizens' Commission on City Government," a group of 17-20 citizens, handpicked by him, to study the structure of Tulsa's government for six months and make recommendations next June.

Most of the petition's backers were residents of Tulsa's "Money Belt," and their motivation was to bring city government firmly and permanently back under the control of the old city establishment. The petition gained some ground thanks to sleight of hand: They hired the same petition circulators who were collecting signatures for the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR) petition and another popular petition which would limit the use of eminent domain condemnation for economic development. Circulators, paid by the signature for all three petitions, would attract signers for the popular TABOR or eminent domain petitions, and then would quickly ask the signer if they'd also sign a petition "for better city government," hoping the voter would sign one more time without looking too closely.

Opinions are divided as to whether the supercouncilor petition was shelved because it wasn't on track to get the necessary signatures, or out of fear that, if it were on the ballot for next spring's city elections, it would create a backlash that would leave the petition's supporters with even less power than they now have.

So the petition is dead, or at least hibernating, and this "Citizens' Commission" has risen in its place, evidently to accomplish the same goal by means of a "blue ribbon" panel.

Here's how a blue ribbon panel usually works: Appoint to the panel prominent people who don't really have time to devote to the effort. These people are accomplished in their fields, but not engaged in the issue to be studied. They come into the process with an open mind, with no predetermined conclusions. To help guide them to the appropriate conclusion, lend the panel your own staff to gather and organize data, helpfully arranged to point in one clear direction. Add to the mix a couple of panel members who are passionately committed to the desired conclusion, but make sure no one passionately committed to another point of view has a seat at the table.

After the requisite number of meetings, the advocates for the desired conclusion and the staffers will make a convincing case for their position, and no one on the blue ribbon panel will be strongly committed enough to an opposing position to make a rebuttal. The panel will make the desired recommendation, which the daily paper's editorial board will hail as tablets from Mt. Sinai. The pressure will then be on the legislative body to adopt the recommendation, even if they disagree with it.

LaFortune seems to be following this recipe. He created this panel without any input from any other public official, and he alone controls who will sit on the panel. Two members, Howard Barnett and C. S. Lewis III, were members of the advisory board for Tulsans for Better Government, so you know they'll be pushing for at-large seats on the Council to be part of the commission's recommendation. So far, no women have been named to the panel. Neither has anyone involved with Tulsans Defending Democracy.

As a bonus (for him), some of LaFortune's choices seem desired to bolster his reelection campaign. One of the co-chairmen is Hans Helmerich. Hans's brother Jono Helmerich is the chairman of LaFortune's reelection committee, but it's rumored that he is shopping around for a better candidate to back. Michael Covey, spokesman for the South Tulsa Citizens' Coalition, represents a group that will wield a lot of influence over next March's Republican mayoral primary; Covey's inclusion may be an attempt by LaFortune to win his support or at least neutralize him.

If LaFortune were serious about creating a broad-based, diverse group of citizens to study this issue, he should have given each of his fellow elected officials the chance to name a committee member. If he were serious about keeping politics out of it, he would have consulted with his fellow elected officials before setting the rules, and he would have delayed doing anything until after the election. The Council asked LaFortune to speak on the issue at their December 8 meeting, but he claimed a prior engagement; he has promised to show up on the 15th. We'll see.

There are some good and thoughtful people on LaFortune's commission, but it will take a lot of determination and time and energy on their part to keep the process honest, if that's even possible.

As we bid good riddance to the at-large councilor petition, while training a wary eye on the Mayor's "Citizens' Commission," let's pause to note two oddities about Tulsans for Better Government:

Oddity 1: TBG insisted that Tulsa needs an elected city official who would advocate effectively for the needs of the entire city, not just a single district. Don't we already have such a position? Known as "Mayor"? Ah, but the key word is "effectively," isn't it? The obvious solution is to have an effective Mayor, but since many of the members of TBG are supporters of LaFortune's re-election effort - Chip McElroy, the chairman of TBG, hosted the Mayor's reelection launch - the obvious solution wouldn't have occurred to them.

Oddity 2: While many long-ago-former elected officials were members of TBG, the only currently-serving official on TBG's board was County Commissioner Randi Miller. This was surprising, since the at-large proposal would have rendered her home base of West Tulsa politically insignificant, too small to influence even a district council race. LaFortune's backers are talking about Miller as a tag-team substitute for the him in the Mayor's race, but her support for this proposal isn't going to endear her to grass-roots Republicans. (Her political future has already been damaged by her admission under oath that she didn't review any supporting information before voting to approve the IVI toll bridge contract.) There are rumors that she didn't intend to support the at-large proposal, but to date her name is still on the TBG website as a board member, and she has yet to issue a public statement withdrawing her support for the plan.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, an up-close look at next Tuesday's Tulsa County sales tax election. (You can find an earlier column about this tax proposal here, and here's a column about Tulsa County Commissioners' aversion to competitive bidding.

G. W. Schulz has a lengthy profile of Ray and Robin Siegfried, the company they built, their lavish lifestyles, and the legal dispute that divides the two brothers even after Ray's death earlier this year. And he's got a story about Oklahoma's TABOR initiative.

All that and much more, in the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

My column in the current Urban Tulsa Weekly is a review of the City Charter amendment proposals Tulsans will vote on next spring, as well as a few that didn't make the cut, along with a look at the politics behind what passed and what didn't.

There were a couple of new developments tonight. Illegitimate Councilor Randy Sullivan tried to move the zoning protest petition amendment from the March primary election ballot to the April general election ballot. He tried to make the case that voters would be disenfranchised by having the vote on the primary ballot, when turnout would be lighter.

Councilor Chris Medlock pointed out that homeowners were promised back in 2004, when the courts ruled that the protest petition ordinance was in conflict with the charter, that the amendment to restore that protection would be on the next citywide election ballot. That would have been the December 2004 library bond issue, but the Council held off at the request of library officials. The next opportunity was the city bond issue in April 2005. The Council called the election, but something happened -- the dog ate Bill LaFortune's homework -- and the required public notices weren't placed in the Tulsa Legal News. The March 2006 is the next available citywide date to vote, and because there will be a mayoral primary, every precinct will be open anyway.

The other councilors were apparently persuaded by Medlock's argument -- Sullivan's motion died for lack of a second.

Councilor Roscoe Turner brought the recall amendment up for reconsideration, as I was hoping he would. The original proposal was modified by two complementary amendments proposed by Councilor Tom Baker. The requirement for signature comparison for the recall petitions was dropped (by a unanimous vote). Added in its place was a requirement for each signer to provide a valid contact phone number. That passed by a 5-4 vote (Baker, Henderson, Mautino, Medlock, Turner in favor; Christiansen, Martinson, Neal, Sullivan against). The amended amendment was sent to the voters by a 7-2 vote -- Martinson and Sullivan voted against. Although it isn't my ideal, the proposed amendment would require that recall be for cause, provides a consistent standard for number of signatures across all offices, and requires that signature gatherers be residents of the district. If we pass it in April, it will help ensure that a recall only happens when genuine constituents have a genuine and grave complaint against an elected official.

Finally, a District 7 resident (and a friend of mine), John Eagleton, protests that he did raise the issue of Randy Sullivan's non-residency with members of the City Council when it was publicly acknowledged in February 2005. Eagleton asked the Councilors to seek the City Attorney's opinion on the effect of filing a bogus declaration of candidacy; he believes it would render the election null and void and cause the office to become vacant. That was never done, apparently, perhaps because everyone was distracted by the recall effort underway at the time.

I remember, too, that there were District 7 residents who wanted to recall Randy Sullivan, but they restrained themselves at the request of Councilors Medlock and Mautino, who were themselves under threat of recall at the time.

Here's a link to all the articles in the current issue. Don't forget -- just a few more days to donate gifts for children in the DHS foster care system. Pick up a copy of the dead-tree version of UTW for a list of kids, ages, and the gifts they'd like for Christmas.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Urban Tulsa Weekly category from December 2005.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: November 2005 is the previous archive.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: January 2006 is the next archive.

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