Miami, Fla. has recently adopted a city-wide zoning code that champions new urban principles. Other cities are watching with great interest.
The code promotes pedestrian street level activity and encourages greater residential concentration for a more car-independent city with the hope that population densities will someday be sufficient to support mass transit.
The code is largely the work of Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who along with husband Andres Duany, helped plan and build Seaside, Fla. They were consultants for MAPS3 in Oklahoma City and are working in Fayetteville, which I hope to write a column about soon.
I know their work well. I own property one-tenth of a mile outside of Seaside in a town called Watercolor. In 2003, when I thought I understood real estate speculation, I bought a house that could be "flipped" within three months. As you noticed, that was seven years ago. Now with the collapse of the real estate bubble, I could be in the Seaside area for the next 100 years before I recover my investment.
If you have to be stuck in real estate that's sunk well below cost, I recommend the waters of Seaside. For past seven years, I've managed to spend quite a bit of time there. It's a carefully planned community.
My family and I don't drive much at all. We can buy fresh groceries within a five-minute walk. Our kids ride their bikes everywhere--to the beach, to different parks, to the lake, to lizard hunts, to pick-up soccer and football games, to evening concerts and crab hunts on the beach.
There are festivals and galleries and pottery shops, hiking trails that take you right into the forest and biking paths that stretch from Destin to Panama City. We don't have to monitor television and Xbox use. If neighborhoods are designed with kids in mind, kids will play outside.
Seaside doesn't quite meet the real principles of a new urban town. Seaside offers an ideal community, but it's expensive. The concept of Seaside, however, is something we can copy here in Tulsa's Center City, while preserving affordable housing.
There is a lot to be hopeful about in downtown Tulsa, and the University of Tulsa brims with new construction. The land area bounded by Elgin and Delaware from 1st to 11th is one of my favorite areas for urban renewal. It's great land.
We should set goals to double the number of college students and young families in Tulsa and offer them an exciting and an affordable place to live.
The 6th street arterial offers one of the prettiest views of the downtown skyline. Nelson's Buffeteria has relocated to 3rd Street, west of Utica and the smart and stylish iron sculpture shop, Garden Deva, is just across the street. Right there in Kendall-Whittier is the Circle Cinema. Central Park has become one of the warmest parks in the city, the pearl of a rejuvenating Pearl District.
The City of Tulsa could offer its first Greenbelt neighborhood plan to attract an increasingly environmentally-conscious citizenry and connect downtown Tulsa to our flagship university along an education corridor.
Does 6th Street even have to be a street? Think 50 years in the future and envisage a turn of the century trolley connecting the University of Tulsa with downtown. And like Seaside, a square mile where everything you need is within a comfortable walk.
Let's have this new Greenbelt Plan require LEED-certified homes (an nationally recognized green building certification for measuring building sustainability) for new construction. Let's have the urban homestead city land within the Greenbelt to developers and builders who agree to investments consistent with the Plan. Let's offer open transfer to the public school of your choice, so that families do not feel prejudiced by their choice of residence. If security is an issue, the city can offer extra policing. The state's Local Development Act might be available to offer property tax abatement to encourage repopulation.
This is an investment of lasting value, which will not interest the private sector without public sector support. If a business person's cost of capital is 12 percent, any dollar earned 20 years in the future is worth just about a dime, which explains why private developers are generally not interested in building a community. Hence, there is a vital role for a municipality to play in rediscovering the value of its urban core.
In their book Suburban Nation, Zyberk, Duany and Speck reprint a letter sent to their firm from a woman living just outside Tulsa. She writes:
I am a mother of four children who are not able to leave the yard because of our city's design. Ever since we have moved here I have felt like a caged animal only let out for a ride in the car. It is impossible to walk even to the grocery store two blocks away. If our family wants to g o for a ride we need to load two cars with four bikes and a baby cart and drive four miles to the only bike path in this city of over a quarter million people. I cannot exercise unless I drive to a health club that I had to pay $300 to, and that is four and a half miles away. There is no sense of community here on my street, either, because we all have to drive around in our own little worlds that take us fifty miles a day to every corner of the surrounding five miles.
I want to walk somewhere so badly that I could cry. I miss walking! I want the kids to walk to school. I want to walk to the store for a pound of butter. I want to take the kids on a neighborhood stroll or bike. My husband wants to walk to work because it is so close, but none of these things is possible...And if you saw my neighborhood, you would think that I had it all according to the great American dream.
In the 20 years since that letter was written, not much has changed, except for the accelerating loss of Tulsa's population to the bedroom communities. Sprawl is bankrupting Tulsa, spreading out the cost of municipal service over a larger land area with a smaller population to pay for it.
It's time for a bold experiment.
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