What are the grand challenges for our metro?
• Crafting powerful, sustainable strategies for animating Tulsa's economy -- repositioning the great entrepreneurial culture that made us vital and consequential during the oil boom;
• Executing and living up to our new comprehensive physical plan -- a touchstone for a much greener, agile and better connected Tulsa;
• Doing the reconciliation needed to quash the racial, social and physical developmental dysfunctions spawned by the race riot of '21 -- and fully embracing our growing Hispanic community: folks that can further energize our economy and deeply enrich our culture and politics;
• Pushing the "open culture" that futurist Richard Florida and others call key to nurturing high yield start-up companies and the iconoclastic folks who build them; something essential to keeping bright Tulsa kids here and seizing the high frontier.
Hello "Vision 2"
There is an extended Vision 2025/region wide improvement package -- advocates are calling it "Vision 2" (V2). Tulsa County voters will be asked to approve the multi part, still evolving package this November.
Does/will the nearly $800 million dollar package -- one that is still being crafted -- make the mark?
Some Key Tests:
Is the package equitable and consistent with counter punching the inequality that is so much a part of our society and this community?
Is the package likely to improve our competitive advantage vis-a-vis other communities in the larger (multistate) region?
Will a wide variety of folks help shape the quality of life projects still to be selected for the new package?
Are the quality-of-life improvements in the bundle, consistent with best practices in planning, design/civil engineering, energy management, and service delivery: Is ingenuity and imagination evident in the new offering?
Corporate Welfare or Futures Driver?
Superior job retention/expansion efforts are often difficult to parse from "going through the motions" projects: efforts that focus on "saving" ineffectual firms or mounting simply dumb projects. Separating "corporate welfare" from strategic projects that can spark sustainable economic growth and help reanimate communities and workers is at the core of effective local economic up lift. And making this distinction is key to assessing the "aero package" in the V2 offering.
The aerospace element is a large, almost $260 million item: this element of the larger project supports substantial repairs and adds additional functionality to what has become Tulsa's aerospace "development park".
No community that purports to be at the frontline of aviation maintenance/operations can do without an array of items of this kind. Key question: What is the volume of the job retention/expansion fostered by this really big upgrading of Tulsa's "tuned up" aerospace district? How will the package improve our competitive posture with aviation firms not already in Tulsa? I'm thinking of firms pondering expansion decisions on civilian aviation work, the exploding commercial unmanned aviation marketplace or the still nascent, space commercialization industry?
Aviation, telecoms, nuclear power, "new gas," the life science revolution, computing, the Internet -- the driver tech/economic phenomena of the last and our current century -- were spawned by heavy federal, military and space investments. Just now there are of billions of dollars in federal and venture capital in play to create alternative energy, novel bio-med, next gen aerospace and advanced computing projects.
Stuff like the failed Solyndra solar energy venture , despite what many GOP fossil heads may say, are a tiny part of this universe and, from a performance stand point, are unrepresentative.
Make no mistake -- Tulsa's aero package is in line with these efforts -- this part of V2 is a mini-stimulus project with a job creation and retention focus. It is a direct response to the American Airline bankruptcy crisis and local job/contractor spin down: but it is not a bailout of American.
Question: Is the package imaginative enough, bold enough to make a difference -- does it honor the toil, the yeoman's efforts of Tulsa's great aerospace worker community? And does it mark us as a magnet spot for frontier "fly world" projects?
Quality of Life Boosters & The Gilcrease Expressway
There's also a nearly $300 million package quality-of-life package may be used for improving our transportation network, modernizing and replacing parks in the City/County, improving our river assets and maybe doing more higher ed physical improvements of the kind that were so central to the last round of Vision 2025.
Some of the funds may be used to continue work on the Gilcrease expressway. The Gilcrease has been seen by Tulsa planners as a "spike" to ignite a commercial, retail and housing surge in Tulsa' north/northwest rim -- an area with huge underinvestment, under-performing housing markets and an almost complete absence of sizable retail and commercial outlets. I'm hoping that if Gilcrease is in the final V2 mix, that we exploit its potential as a breakout development project.
Gilcrease could work as a sort of "super road" with dedicated lanes for transit, biking and scenic pedestrian use (what planners call a "complete street"), a next gen expressway that makes provision for semiautomated driving and other innovations that may come later in the century.
The Gilcrease could also be an "intelligent street" that used novel materials and "in road" sensors to lower maintenance/repair, and it would also be cool to seek explicit high intensity zoning/incentive for facilitating Gilcrease corridor retail, commercial and next stage housing -- some of the north side growth "fire-up" long imagined for the project.
Maybe Gilcrease is best thought of as project with seed capital from the new vision package, to be financed ultimately via a toll road/bond regiment though the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
Overall, I wish the package was much more imaginative.
I wish transit had been explicitly included -- this is an equity/moral issue that we need to address in a town that is behind the curve. I had high hopes for a much more inventive aviation package. And I wish the V2 improvement effort had featured much, much more public involvement in its early crafting.
So, does the package meet the mark -- is it worth our support?
More soon on this question -- more on a bunch on key equity and "design" concerns we should all have about this still emerging proposition.
As it happens, there is still time for some of same because almost $400 million is still to be allotted to "community projects" in Tulsa proper and in the other towns in the county.
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