The concept of mixed-use development -- an idea that is considered a key component of the city's recent comprehensive plan update and which already has been embraced by a handful of local developers -- is by no means a novel concept, no matter how revolutionary it may seem to some Tulsans.
It is, in fact, essentially a return to the way human beings have always done things, according to local developer Jamie Jamieson.
"Mixing uses in a very small area is nothing new," he said. "When human beings invented the village thousands of years ago, it worked out pretty well, didn't it?"
Jamieson calls mixed-use development traditional urbanism and says it reflects the wisdom of the ages.
"It's not the aberration," he said. "The way we've done things the last three-quarters of a century, with the birth of zoning, was, in itself, an aberration."
Mixed-use development is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than segregating office, retail, residential and entertainment uses from each other, it places them in close proximity, allowing for more compact and more efficient development, as well as creating a more walkable lifestyle for its inhabitants.
A typical mixed-use development is characterized by two- or three-story buildings set close to the street, with the first floor used for retail or restaurant space, while the other floors are designated for office or residential use. The idea is to create an environment in which people can live, work, shop, dine and socialize without having to get in a car and drive to each of those destinations separately.
To be sure, it represents a sharp departure from the suburban sprawl that has marked so much development in this country since the end of World War II, which is typified by single-family dwellings set in subdivisions that, in many cases, are located miles from the workplaces, schools, restaurants, churches and businesses that their inhabitants frequent on a daily basis.
Another local developer, Bob Eggleston, said mixed-use development was the standard approach until the advent of the Industrial Revolution.
"There was no separation of where you lived and where you worked," he said, describing human lifestyles until the late 19th century. "A public house was people opening their front rooms to sell beer. That's where the term pub comes from."
But the proliferation of factories and automobiles set in motion a chain of events that led to the demise of mixed-use development in many parts of the United States. Additionally, a 1926 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co., affirmed the authority of municipalities to use the relatively new concept of zoning to segregate land uses, shooting down the argument of opponents that it represented an unreasonable intrusion into their private property rights. That decision helped usher in an era of development in which the segregation of those uses would become the rule rather than the exception.
"Never had human beings seen the need to separate uses, nor had they had to account for the automobile," Jamieson said of civilization before the 20th century. "The birth of the automobile supercharged zoning."
It still took the better part of half the 20th century for mixed-use development to fall out of favor. Local blogger and political observer Michael Bates, a Tulsa native, said many of the neighborhoods that the parents of Baby Boomers grew up in could be regarded as mixed use, and he believes you don't have to look very far even today to catch at least a glimpse of what a mixed-use development might look like.
"When you think about the neighborhoods many of us find so interesting -- Brookside or Cherry Street -- that's essentially mixed use," he said. "You've got retail, offices and residential all within walking distance of each other.
When modern-day zoning got going around World War II, it started out to keep industrial uses away from residential areas. But it developed over time into this rigid system where uses are strictly segregated from each other.
"Those are separated by buffers, and you can't get from one to another very easily," he said. "What we end up with is something where you can't do anything in life without driving 20 minutes."
Mixed-use development is not a radical idea, he said.
"It's revolutionary because it runs counter to 60 or 70 years of development practice here in Tulsa," he said.
City planner Theron Warlick said several other factors contributed to sprawl that exists today -- the creation of the highway system, desegregation and white flight, to name but a few.
"It's so easy to travel 30 miles outside of town now," he said.
Regardless of its merits, he said, that new style of development became the norm.
"It's habit," he said. "We established a value system that took root after the 1940s. And there are a lot of nice things about it, but there are a lot of detriments, too, like social isolation. The word neighbor means something completely different today than it did then. When you ask people, 'Can you name your neighbors?' not many of them can do it."
That style of development has other disadvantages, Warlick said.
"The old Euclidian idea that land use had to be spread apart is no longer logical," he said. "It was logical in the 1920s when factories were belting out toxic smoke, but now it's your transportation system that is belting out pollution."
From a planning perspective, Warlick said the advantages of mixed-use development are considerable. Its compact nature means population density, an element that directly relates to infrastructure costs.
"You can serve more people with the same amount of streets, water, sewer lines, cops and fire stations," he said.
Increasing Tulsa's population density is something a variety of city officials have talked about as one of the major goals of the PLANiTULSA comprehensive plan update, as the city has had more and more difficulty in recent years meeting the costs of maintaining its infrastructure, especially roads.
Warlick said multi-use development can have a direct impact on that.
"The best way to reduce traffic problems is to get shops closer to where people live," he said. "It's better than street widening or traffic synchronization. It's the best way to control traffic."
Live and Let Live
In fact, one of the biggest advantages of multi-use development, proponents say, is that, in many cases, people won't need to use their cars at all. Illustrating that point, Eggleston recounted a recent visit to his native England, explaining that upon his arrival in London, he parked his car and didn't find it necessary to return to it until the end of his stay five days later.
"I had to brush the dust off my car," he said.
Eggleston has embraced the multi-use concept to a point matched by few others. He is in the process of building two mixed-use developments in the area -- the $80 million One Place development downtown just east of the BOK Center that will feature a 15-story office building and the 800,000-square-foot Village on Main development on the west bank of the Arkansas River in Jenks. Both projects will feature hotels, residential living, office space, retail outlets, restaurants and an abundance of green space.
Though both projects are years from completion, they will rank among the first mixed-use developments in the state, he has said.
"For people like me, it's always been considered risky" to initiate such projects, he said. "Your success is based on all the components, whereas if you just build a movie theater or a hotel, they only have to be successful on their own. This way, every component works together, and they're all dependent on each other for the success of the mixed-use development."
Warlick said that kind of hesitancy is to be expected.
"From a developer's perspective, until we've proved that it works, the decision to do it is a tough one," he said. "It makes people very nervous, very nervous."
Even so, Eggleston said it hasn't been difficult to attract tenants to his two planned multi-use projects. The One Place development already has a deal with an oil company to serve as the anchor tenant for its 15-story office building, and it announced a deal with a hotel developer earlier this year.
He said he should be ready to announce some major new tenants for the Village on Main over the next few weeks, as well.
"We have not been going out there in the marketplace trying to sell this (to tenants)," he said. "In almost every case, people have come to us."
Eggleston and others believe the public's appetite for such projects doesn't lag far behind. Bates cited the input of thousands of Tulsans who participated in the PLANiTULSA process as proof that there is a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo and that people are demanding new kinds of development.
Rachel Zabrowski, the lead architect on the One Place project from Miles Associates, said that when citizens were invited to participate in the PLANiTULSA process, they demonstrated a clear rejection of current development trends in which neighborhoods continue to grow with no sense of center. The idea of densely populated, walkable nodes scattered throughout the city was very well received, she said.
"So the concept of multi-use development is entirely complementary with that," she said.
Warlick back up that assertion.
"The people we worked with in PLANiTULSA were more than ready for it," he said. "They know what it is, and they've been to other towns that have it. Invariably, their favorite places, wherever they traveled, was those walkable areas. Nobody told me, 'We loved the fast food joints in Phoenix.' "
Brittany Sawyer, spokesperson for One Developers LLC, the group that is building One Place, believes that familiarity with mixed-use development is important.
"The people who grasp it the most are the people who have traveled and seen it in other cities," she said.
Warlick acknowledged most Tulsans have probably had little or no exposure to those kinds of projects.
"That's really part of the problem," he said. "It's a big, systemic problem. Since we don't have a good example, you have to go to other cities to see it."
And that will slow its acceptance here, he said.
"If banks don't have comps, they can't make loans," he said. "If citizens can't see it every day, they're not sure if they want it or not. We're kind of held back by a lot of things right now, but we're quickly busting through this current trend. We're working with private partners to build some prototypes. That's one of the six key strategies listed in PLANiTULSA."
It's not as if multi-use development is some exotic phenomenon relegated to the densely populated urban centers of the Northeast, Bates said. He said good examples of it exist in places as close by as Kansas City or Fort Worth.
What visitors to those cities have seen is likely to become a reality in Tulsa in the coming decades, Warlick said.
"A lot of the stuff that's going to be in the Brady (Arts District) will be of that nature," he said. "It's not going to look like the suburbs at all, and it shouldn't. You'll have people living above shops, that sort of thing."
But mixed-use development won't be relegated strictly to downtown sites or such obvious locations as Cherry Street or Brookside, he said.
"We want to try to get this happening everywhere, not just downtown or not just midtown," he said. "If people live in east Tulsa and want to live near a walkable area, we want to give them that option."
Zabrowski, who has a great deal of experience with mixed-use developments, said she thinks Tulsans will have a strong positive reaction to the concept.
"Hopefully, it'll be true to form, in that it will cause a great deal of curiosity and excitement for people to be able to park their car and do several things in one part of town," she said. "Only when you have several activities coming together like that can you cause that to happen."
Gregarious By Nature and Design
Jamieson, another Englishman, has been working toward mixed-use development in Tulsa since moving here in 1997. He created the Village at Central Park housing development just east of downtown in the Pearl District in 2001 -- a project modeled in many ways after the Georgetown area outside Washington, D.C. -- and since has devoted his attention to revitalizing the surrounding area into a sustainable, walkable community.
Mixed-use development soon will be the norm in that neighborhood, he hopes.
"We're not inventing it, we're re-inventing it," he said of the mixed-use concept.
A regular visitor to City Hall, where he lobbies for projects designed to make his vision for the Pearl District a reality, Jamieson believes Tulsa can no longer afford to do things the way it has for the past 60 or 70 years.
"(Multi-use development) will do a huge amount of good for our pocketbook, but it sure as heck isn't going to happen overnight," he said. "We've got to start investing in it now, or we will never escape from this spiral."
One growing trend in multi-use development across the United States, Warlick said, is to redevelop struggling or closed shopping centers into multi-use projects. Those 10- to 15-acre sites can be relatively rare in urban settings, and that availability alone can make them attractive.
"That's a ready-made site to drop a walkable community into," he said. "It's very hard to pick up that much land in a downtown setting."
Warlick cited the example of Stapleton International Airport in Denver, which was abandoned when Denver International Airport opened in 1995. It now has been redeveloped into a multi-use community, he said.
"It was an urban setting, near downtown, of 4 to 5 square miles. They put in thousands of units of mixed-use development. It's one of the most popular areas to live in in Denver now," he said, pausing before laughing and adding, "But we're not closing our airport."
Bates said one of the reasons multi-use development is so rare in Tulsa is that it has come close to being eliminated by current zoning law.
"Right now, our zoning code makes it very difficult to set up a mixed-use situation," he said, explaining that doing so requires setting up a complicated planned unit development in which each parcel has its own land uses. "In order to allow developers to create mixed-use development, we need a zoning code that reflects that. We want people to be able to build mixed-use developments with a minimum of red tape."
Warlick acknowledged the accuracy of Bates' claim.
"There are some actual barriers. We do make it complicated. At times, it's not legal to do mixed uses," he said, noting the PUD process and some special variances can be a way around that. "But if people want that, why make it harder? We should make it easier.
"But we're not there yet," he said. "It is one of our top priorities to get some new zoning on the books that makes mixed-use development easy -- not easier, but easy. We're currently drafting a request for proposals looking for people to help us draft that zoning to make mixed-use easy. It is one of the mayor's top PLANiTULSA priorities."
That's not to say the entire city will be remade into a series of mixed-use developments, Warlick emphasized.
"Stay calm," he advised concerned about such a scenario. "It's not as if we're stopping what we're doing. We're just enhancing it."
Over the next 30 years, Warlick said, single-family homes and traditional development will not disappear from Tulsa.
"For those who think, 'Will I still be able to live in a house in 20 years?' the answer is, 'Absolutely,' " he said. "Most of the town will look the way it does today. There'll just be some new styles for people who want something else."
That's not to say there won't be changes. At this point, there are only a couple of hundred town homes and about 45,000 multi-family units in Tulsa, Warlick said. If current development trends continued, over the next 30 years, only about 5,000 town homes multi-family units would be added to that total. But under the PLANiTULSA model, he said, that number rises to 17,000 town homes and multi-family units.
To a large degree, that new style of development will be necessitated by Tulsa's inability to maintain current development trends, he said.
"There are some realities we have to face," he said. "If Tulsans want to pay more to sustain this lifestyle we have today, we have a sustainable model. But most people don't. They like to keep their taxes low."
Ultimately, that combination of financial constraints and changing lifestyle preferences is what will lead to the proliferation of mixed-use development in Tulsa, its supporters say. Eggleston said he believes the construction of One Place and the Village on Main will do nothing short of changing the face of the community.
"Every project we do is trying to take the lead in development as it should be -- giving back, and not just taking," he said. "We're certainly not intimidated to take that lead. Someone always has got to go first, so we'll go first."
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