A group of like-minded people could have an enormous impact on Tulsa's future, but first they'd have to meet.
To explain what I mean, let's take an example from another realm: About 15 years ago, Christian students in public high schools across the country began organizing a time of public, collective prayer at the beginning of the school year. The school flagpole (every school has one) was designated as the place to meet before the start of classes, and that common rallying point gave the movement its name -- "See You at the Pole."
These poleside gatherings were not only an opportunity for prayer, but they brought together Christian students who were serious about living out their faith on campus. Devout believers who might have felt alone in their faith suddenly found that they weren't. Connections were formed that provided encouragement and led to joint activities throughout the school year.
Perhaps you've felt lonely in your concerns about Tulsa. Doesn't anyone else care that we're turning downtown into a big parking lot? Isn't anyone worried about the impact of more ugly sprawling development on our city's livability? Shouldn't we be encouraging development of a more diverse assortment of businesses, instead of putting all our economic hopes in oil or aerospace or telecommunications?
There must be other Tulsans who share your concerns, but how do you find them? What's the equivalent of the flagpole for Tulsans concerned about our city's future growth and development?
It's an organization called TulsaNow, and instead of meeting around a pole, we'll be meeting around a pint next Monday, Jan. 29, at McNellie's Public House, 409 E. 1st St., from 6 to 8pm. This annual meeting is open to interested members of the public. It will include a look back at the accomplishments of the last year and a discussion of strategic priorities for 2007, a discussion, dear reader, in which your participation is invited.
TulsaNow has its origins in early 2001, with a gathering of friends who were discouraged about the defeat of another flawed civic improvements sales tax package. ("It's Tulsa's Time," November, 2000.) The four founding members were all active in community organizations, but none of them were in positions of power and influence. They began working their networks to find other Tulsans from all parts of the community who shared their sense of urgency to get Tulsa moving again.
I was invited to participate a few months later and have been involved ever since, for the last few years as a board member. (So there's that disclosure out of the way.)
TulsaNow attracted many people who were frustrated that Tulsa's elected officials and Chamber of Commerce leaders suffered from a cargo-cult-like fixation on building a new arena as the solution to all our problems, while places like Kansas City and Salt Lake City were using their long-term community visioning efforts to address neighborhood integrity, historic preservation, land-use policies, suburban sprawl, and revitalization of the urban core--all issues that matter to a city's livability and long-term vitality.
Members of the group were involved in the process that led up to the Vision 2025 vote, helping to facilitate the discussions and tabulate all the responses at Mayor Bill LaFortune's July 2002 vision summit and participating in various task forces. (The complete vision summit report--with the presentations and all of the responses from the participants--is still online at http://www.tulsanow.org/summit/index.htm.)
TulsaNow's October 2002 "Battle of the Plans" brought out big crowds to hear from enthusiastic Tulsans present their dreams for the city.
Although members differed as to whether the final package was worthy of our support, TulsaNow's involvement did at least encourage the inclusion of funds for downtown residential development, a trail of historical markers (the Centennial Walk), neighborhood enhancements, and river improvements. And TulsaNow hosted what was perhaps the most substantive debate during the sales tax campaign.
While many elected officials considered the passage of Vision 2025 to be the end of the discussion about Tulsa's future, TulsaNow's leaders saw much work to be done in shaping a genuine and comprehensive vision for the city, an attitude reflected in its mission statement:
"TulsaNow's mission is to help Tulsa become the most vibrant, diverse, sustainable and prosperous city of our size. We achieve this by focusing on the development of Tulsa's distinctive identity and economic growth around a dynamic, urban core, complemented by a constellation of livable, thriving communities."
Research and public forums are the primary means TulsaNow uses to advance this mission. At the tulsanow.org website, you'll find research on successful urban revitalization and economic development efforts in other cities, with links to helpful web resources from which much of the information was gathered.
Once or twice a year, TulsaNow holds a public forum, bringing in expert speakers from around the country to focus attention on our core issues and to inject fresh ideas into Tulsa's civic conservation.
April 2005's "Passing the Popsicle Test: A Better Tulsa by Design" was about the failure of traditional use-based zoning codes to create a sustainably livable city and an introduction to the advantages of form-based regulation of land.
Last September's forum -- "Time to Twilight Zoning? Building the 'Beautiful' Back into Tulsa!" -- brought Vancouver architect and urban planner Alan Hart to Tulsa, along with Terry Taylor from the Oklahoma City Planning Department and Jamie Jamieson, developer of the Village at Central Park and TulsaNow past president, to address these questions:
"What kind of city do we want Tulsa to be? Do we want to encourage policies that put people first (encouraging human-scaled development, walkability, safety, historic preservation and common sense)? Do we want form-based codes that are clear and easy to understand? De we want to eliminate bureaucracy and promote economic development? Do we want to respect the unique needs of individual neighborhoods?"
TulsaNow also co-sponsored forums for each of the last three city elections as a way to get candidates on the record on matters of urban, cultural, and economic development, responding to specific policy proposals from TulsaNow, addressing issues that had been off the radar in elections past.
As a way of keeping Tulsans informed, there's a weekly e-mail newsletter, with notices of exciting and important civic events and opportunities to take action. (Visit the website at tulsanow.org to sign up.)
The website also has a free-for-all online discussion forum about Tulsa, provided as a public service by TulsaNow (but emphatically not an official communication of the organization).
TulsaNow is not all it could be. We're hampered by the fact that we're entirely run by volunteers, and the very quality that makes them valuable to TulsaNow's mission -- their networks of involvements in other organizations -- makes them too busy to devote a lot of time to Tulsa now.
Past leaders like Wendy Thomas, Jamie Jamieson, and Rebecca Bryant have done a wonderful job, but it would be a boon to have a full-time director to give order and focus to our volunteer efforts. More volunteers would help, too.
And although a wide range of political perspectives are represented, the demographics are skewed toward Midtown, white-collar types. We want the participation and input of people from all parts of the city, all ages, and all walks of life. You know about issues that we don't yet see or understand--issues that matter to your quality of life--come tell us about them and let's work together to address them.
Here's my final pitch: If you read this column regularly, if you've read this far, you must be someone who cares about our city's future. If the issues that I've addressed here matter to you--even if you disagree with my take on them--then you share the concerns of TulsaNow.
TulsaNow is your opportunity to go from being concerned to actually doing something constructive to make a difference. You owe it to yourself to check out TulsaNow.
Membership is free, although donations are encouraged. If nothing else, come for the free refreshments.
See you at McNellie's Monday night.
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