As we count down the days to Christmas and the coming new year, it's time take stock of what's happened and ask ourselves how we can do better next year. Frequently, when we do this, we enlist the help of those wiser than we are.
Since we so often do this reflection as individuals, UTW thought it would be useful for Tulsa to do it as a community. We begin with a basic question: how has Tulsa been this year?
Wildfires, bankruptcies, and elections. It's been crazy. And even though most of the incumbents got reelected (sorry, John Sullivan), the fires have died down, and the economy is recovering, the long-term effects of what's happened remain to be seen.
In order to consider where we've been and where we're going as a city, we enlisted the help of local clergy, or if you will, three Wise Men. They may not be Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior, but these holy men have a unique perspective on Tulsa. Whether we're getting married or burying our loved ones, men (and women) of the cloth see us at our best and our worst.
And that's what makes what they have to say so interesting.
Rev. Matthew Gerlach
Gerlach lives and works in a predominantly working class neighborhood between City Center and East Tulsa. As pastor at St. Pius X Catholic church and school, 1727 S. 75th E. Ave., the priest has seen some setbacks this past year.
"It is hard to say right now [how things have improved]," he said. "I've got parishioners who are American Airlines employees."
He also noted the Hostess bankruptcy and the near-closure of a nearby post office, both of which have hit his neighborhood. "We certainly hope things get better," he said.
He's not entirely optimistic. While he understands why Vision2 was voted down, he said "I was disappointed in the development possibilities" that now will not come to fruition. He hopes another try will fare better with voters. It could pass if "packaged better and more transparent," he said.
All the same, Gerlach said there are a few bright points, however hard they may be to see. There were fewer layoffs at American Airlines than he expected, for example. The city is "finally doing what the neighbors have wanted" when it comes to street maintenance and the clearance of neighborhood creek beds.
Likewise, he said the neighborhood around St. Pius is "changing for the better." He hopes Pius will be able "to continue to provide education" through grade 8, noting both the school's expansion plans and the church community's positive "presence in the area."
Gerlach is happy about what's going on downtown and said it may bode well for the area around St. Pius. He related that he was recently looking west from the church campus at night. "You can actually see the buildings downtown. This neighborhood isn't all that far removed," he said. He's also heartened by the growth in the Brady district.
Even if Gerlach can't be described as enthusiastic about Tulsa's direction, he remains hopeful. "I'm more encouraged by the development I see and hope it's a sign of things to come," he said.
Rev. Dr. Mouzon Biggs Jr.
For his part, Mouzon Biggs is just happy the City Council and the mayor are getting along. It's "nice to get [the council] off the front page," he said. He added that the mayor and council are "working together much more successfully."
The pastor of Boston Avenue United Methodist church, 1301 S. Boston Ave., for some 33 years, Biggs has a bit of perspective on how downtown has improved. "I'm grateful for the revitalization of the downtown area," he said.
At the same time, Biggs said Tulsa has struggled over the past year. "I'm disappointed in the failure of Vision2," he said. According to Biggs, it took "several years to get the proposals put together."
COURTESY OF REV. MATTHEW GERLACH
Biggs put a great deal of the blame at the feet of the media, which he said got negative despite "celebrating what Vision 2025 [Vision2's predecessor] was about."
Biggs is afraid that Tulsa will fall behind Oklahoma City, which he noted has passed multiple bond issues on urban development -- with good results in his view.
A strong advocate for public education, Biggs was pleased with some developments in Tulsa Public Schools this year. He's particularly glad Keith Ballard has decided to stay on as superintendent. "[I want] more statewide support for public schools," Biggs said. "Education is the way out of poverty."
He also is proud of the interfaith work Boston Avenue church has engaged in. The church engages in dialogue with the local Jewish and Muslim communities.
While he emphasized that no one should "water down" one's own beliefs, he said "[w]e're not afraid of other faith communities." He said that he even recommended that his son place his own children at the Temple Israel preschool.
Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman
Fitzerman has seen Tulsa come back from the brink. "When I came to Tulsa in 1985, the city was sliding rapidly," he wrote in a recent email. "It felt like downtown was declining by the day, with companies closing or decamping to Houston and Dallas."
Fitzerman is astonished by the recent turnaround. "[N]ew public amenities, a sense of bustle and innovation, and real life on the streets," he wrote. "That might be the most important change of all."
COURTESY OF REV. DR. MOUZON BIGGS JR.
He is heartened that Tulsa is becoming a more urban place. In Fitzerman's view, this is perhaps the most dramatic change the city has seen. He sees this especially at his own synagogue, Congregation B'Nai Emunah, 1719 S. Owasso Ave., which is close to downtown and right at the entrance to Cherry Street. "Everything suddenly feels alive," he wrote.
Not that everything is hunky dory. Fitzerman believes Tulsa has struggled in dealing with race -- our city's persistent problem. He wrote that Tulsa remains far too racially, socially, and economically divided. He particularly decried the fact that our neighborhoods continue to segregate one race or social class from another. "Homogenous neighborhoods never accomplish that goal [diversity]. They simply don't challenge us to look beyond ourselves," he wrote.
By way of solution, Fitzerman suggested that "[w]e need a place of ingathering, where unlike people encounter each other day after day and learn to look beyond our differences."
This need for more civic dialogue extends to the religious sphere as well, especially between theological liberals and conservatives. "We need more cross-fertilization in the religious community, with progressives, traditionalists, and spiritual seekers of every kind sitting at the same table talking about issues like service, justice, and creating a city that embraces all of its citizens," he wrote.
Fortunately, he sees the seeds of such a place already. "This is the right moment to become the city we were meant to be," he wrote.
COURTESY OF REV. MARC BOONE FITZERMAN
Share this article: