UTW Column Archive: October 2006 Archives

This is the originally submitted version of a story that was published on October 4, 2006, in the October 5-11, 2006, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The story as published can be found at the Internet Archive. Posted on BatesLine on March 23, 2016.

A promenade on the river
By Michael D. Bates

Last week we asked the question, "What are Tulsans really after when they say they want river development?" The answer is a lively public place, the sort of thing we've seen along the river in San Antonio or along the canal in Oklahoma City's Bricktown. We can see it closer to home, at Riverwalk Crossing in Jenks, where the chance to be in a place bustling with people is a draw regardless of the amount of water in the river.

We want a place where a short stroll takes you past a variety of activities and a variety of people. This kind of place has a name: A promenade.

The book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, provides this description:

"The promenade, 'paseo,' 'passegiata,' evening stroll, is common in the small towns of Italy, Spain, Mexico, Greece, Yugoslavia, Sicily, and South America. People go there to walk up and down, to meet their friends, to stare at strangers, and to let strangers stare at them.

"Throughout history there have been places in the city where people who shared a set of values could go to get in touch with each other. These places have always been like street theaters: They invite people to watch others, to stroll and browse, and to loiter...."

The human impulse still manifests itself, even in Oklahoma's car-dependent culture. Small-town teens cruise Main Street on a Friday night, while suburban teens gather at the mall not just to shop, but to connect with friends. Elements of the promenade pattern can be found in Tulsa's older neighborhood commercial areas, places like Cherry Street and Brookside and 18th and Boston, where it's possible to walk from your house to a neighborhood coffee shop or pub or restaurant.

I believe we can create this sort of place along the banks of the river. We can do it in accordance with the existing Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan. We can do it without sacrificing the natural qualities of the river. We can do it without raising taxes by $600 million.

The east bank between the 11th and 21st Street bridges may provide the best opportunity for creating that kind of place along Tulsa's stretch of the river.

One of the elements of a successful promenade is a concentration of people within a 10 or 15 minute walk -- close enough to be a realistic destination for an evening stroll. The neighboring area is one of the more densely settled parts of Tulsa: a historic neighborhood of single-family homes, several high-rise apartment and condominium buildings, and a number of low-rise apartment and condo complexes. It's within walking distance of the convention center and could be an amenity for out-of-town visitors as well.

It's also a convenient drive-to destination. The major commuter route along Riverside and Denver passes right by, making it an easy place to stop before heading home to south Tulsa. It's close to the hub of Tulsa's expressway network. At the same time, the two-lane continuation of Riverside north of Denver means that the park isn't cut off from the neighborhood.

(It also isn't cut off from the rest of the city by a 300-foot-wide moat, which means that people won't feel compelled to drive to get there.)

But convenience isn't sufficient to make a place work as a promenade. A Pattern Language observes that it must provide people with some sort of destination, "for example, clusters of eating places and small shops," and the centers of activity must be close enough together - they reckon no more than 150 feet apart - to prevent desolate and dead spots on the path. There needs to be a series of interesting places, each close enough to the next one to entice you a little further down the path. Finally, a promenade needs significant points of attraction at both ends to act as anchors.

The Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan calls for building a "promenade" - a kind of boardwalk - along the east bank between 11th and 21st. An expanded café near Riverside and Denver would act as the south anchor and the planned Route 66 museum and restaurant will provide an anchor for the north end of the site. There's already public money committed for improvements in this area - $5.25 million in the 2006 third-penny sales tax plan for the park, plus Vision 2025 money for the Route 66 facility.

What's missing is the in-between stuff. The space needs to be more commercial than it is, but not so developed that the natural beauty of the river is obscured or that joggers, dog walkers, and cyclists feel unwelcome.

Bryant Park in Manhattan is a good example of balancing the natural and the man-made in an outdoor public space. Although the context is different, many of the same amenities would work well here.

Like Bryant Park, this park should have free WiFi (to allow some people to do their work in the park), several food kiosks (at least one serving good coffee), and well-maintained restrooms. There ought to be chairs you can move, so you can choose to sit in the sun or the shade. It ought to be a place you could comfortably spend the whole day.

In Bryant Park, the public library has a small reading "room" - really an outdoor area - with novels and magazines and newspapers available to read. Another part of the park has tables for playing games - you can rent chess and backgammon sets. We could do something similar here.

There ought to be a couple of places to rent bicycles and rollerblades, and some place where you can buy sunscreen and bug spray in case you forgot yours at home. A carousel would be a summer-evening attraction, perhaps along with one or two other small, relatively quiet kiddie rides.

The actual mix of activities and amenities could change over time as we observe what attracts people and what doesn't. The kiosks and other permanent facilities should be flexible in their design. But they should be spread along the length of the park, with a major cluster of activity about halfway along, perhaps near Riverside and Galveston.

The area would be further enhanced by neighborhood-friendly mixed-use redevelopment along the east side of Riverside Drive between Galveston and Denver.

We shouldn't force it, but we should allow those aging apartment complexes, built in the '60s and '70s, to be replaced with well-built three- and four-story buildings which front the sidewalk with retail space on the ground floor, office space and apartments above, and maybe restaurants with roof gardens on the top floor, to take advantage of the view.

In the process of redeveloping that stretch, we should improve the connections between the neighborhood and the park, adding public stairways from Riverside up to streets like Elwood and Frisco that dead-end on top of the hill. Perhaps there could be a grand staircase connecting the Sophian Plaza building, done in the same majestic style as that landmark structure, leading to a major focal point of the park, like a sculpture fountain or the carousel.

This park isn't going to be the blockbuster destination that makes the world stand up and notice Tulsa. Indeed, no single project in one place, no matter how extravagant, will fix what ails our city.

Instead, we need to repair and enhance the urban fabric and the quality of life throughout the city. This park would be a model as we create pleasant and safe gathering places throughout the city, even the farthest reaches of north, east, south, and west Tulsa. At the same time, we need to take care of the basics - preventing crime, maintaining our streets, providing good schools.

That kind of steady and comprehensive strategy, not a desperate billion-dollar gamble, will make our city more beautiful and more attractive as a place to live, work, and visit.

If you'd like to talk more about this approach to river development, I invite you to visit thevoiceoftulsa.com, my favorite online discussion forum about local issues.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the UTW Column Archive category from October 2006.

UTW Column Archive: September 2006 is the previous archive.

UTW Column Archive: January 2007 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Contact

Feeds

Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
Atom
RSS
[What is this?]