Tulsans from all parts of the city share a consensus about highest priorities and are united in optimism about the potential of a new comprehensive plan. But we're also united in concern about out-of-touch leadership and the pervasive influence of money in the outcome of any planning process.
That's according to a survey of community values conducted by Collective Strength as part of PLANiTULSA, Tulsa's first comprehensive planning effort in 30 years.
While Tulsans have been polled many times about priorities, past surveys have been designed to figure out how to sell tax increases to the voters, and the results have been kept under wraps.
The Collective Strength survey is different. I'm not aware of any other survey of this scope intended to discover what aspects of city development and governance matter most to Tulsans. It's the first step in a process of understanding what Tulsans want for their city and then developing a plan to fit those priorities.
The survey process began with 90 in-depth interviews with a variety of civic leaders. (I was included in that group.)
Their responses helped to shape the questions included in a lengthy phone survey of 1,000 Tulsans. The responses were grouped based on zip code into one of five regions: north, south, east, west, and Downtown/Midtown. Calls were made into each of the five regions each night of the survey.
You can find a summary of the results at planitulsa.org. Full results with crosstabs should be posted sometime in early August.
The sample was stratified to match the racial and economic demographics of the 2000 census, with one exception: They assumed that Tulsa's Hispanic population, which grew from 2.6 percent in 1990 to 7.2 percent in 2000, continued to grow, so they sought 10 percent of the responses from Hispanics.
Presenting the results to a meeting of the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners earlier this month, Robin Rather, the head of Collective Strength, said that she had never before done polling in a city that had as much unified vision at the beginning of a planning process as the Tulsa survey revealed.
Six items were ranked as high priorities by at least 70 percent of the respondents: Repairing and maintaining streets, improving public education, new economic opportunities and jobs, clean air and water, improving public safety and health care.
Another five items topped 60 percent: Renewable energy sources, keeping young adults in Tulsa, support for small business and entrepreneurs, affordable housing for students, seniors, and working people, and harmony among the various racial and ethnic groups in the city.
Repairing and maintaining streets was considered a high priority by 84 percent citywide, deviating only slightly by region. (There was a curious racial difference on the issue: 90 percent of whites called streets a high priority, but the same was true for only 70 percent of non-whites.)
The numbers for each high priority were fairly uniform across regional and racial groups, with a few notable exceptions.
A slightly larger proportion of Downtowners and Midtowners ranked clean air and water (84 percent vs. 76 percent), keeping young adults in Tulsa (75 percent vs. 66 percent), and making renewable energy available (73 percent vs. 68 percent) as high priorities than Tulsa as a whole.
Fewer Downtowners, Midtowners, and south Tulsans were concerned about affordable housing than in other parts of the city (58 percent Midtown and 55 percent south vs. 63 percent). South Tulsans, who are mainly not in the Tulsa Public School district, put slightly less priority on public education than the rest of the city, but not by much (75 percent vs. 80 percent).
The most dramatic regional differences came further down the list of priorities.
Overall, only 31 percent of Tulsans consider Arkansas River development a high priority, with the strongest support in south Tulsa (41 percent) and Midtown (38 percent) and the weakest support in east (20 percent) and north Tulsa (22 percent). West Tulsa was close to the citywide average at 30 percent.
There was a 19-point gap for limiting immigration. Forty-nine percent of Eastsiders considered it a high priority, versus only 30 percent of Midtowners.
There was a consensus (83 percent) that north Tulsa has not received enough attention and resources, while 65 percent said the same about west Tulsa.
These results raise a question. If Tulsans are agreed on what should be the highest priorities, why do we have the sense that the city is divided?
Perhaps it's because Tulsa's leaders seem focused on developing entertainment and recreation facilities in the hopes that these will eventually generate the economic activity that will produce the money needed for basic services.
Tulsa's citizens voted for frills five years ago and are still waiting to see the impact on their highest priorities. Only now, with the discussion on how to fund streets, are we beginning to see city leaders focus on the basics.
And the fact that our leaders are still divided on how best to fund a street improvement program is a reminder that it isn't enough to have consensus about what needs to be done. How we go about improving public education and health care, how we create new economic opportunities and jobs are questions that are likely to divide Tulsans along ideological lines.
Despite the broad agreement over priorities, the survey revealed a widespread perception of a disconnect between leaders and citizens. These problems were felt most keenly in north, east, and west Tulsa.
"City leaders in Tulsa understand my community's needs." Fifty-two percent of Midtowners and 48 percent of south Tulsans agreed with that statement, but only 27 percent of Northsiders and Westsiders did. Citywide, the statement polled 39 percent agreement, a stunning statement of no confidence in city leadership.
"I do not feel included in the planning process. People like me are always left out." Majorities agreed in north (59 percent), east (52 percent), and west Tulsa (51 percent). Fewer than a third of Midtowners (32 percent) and Southies (31 percent) agreed. Sixty percent of non-whites agreed, versus 38 percent of whites. Forty-four percent was the overall total.
"I'm concerned the plan will be too influenced by those who have a lot of money." Seventy percent of Tulsans agreed with that statement, which received strongest support from Northsiders (80 percent), Westsiders (74 percent), and Eastsiders (71 percent). The statement received a lower level, but still a majority, of support in south Tulsa and Midtown--about 60 percent.
The gap between Midtown and south Tulsa on the one hand and north, west and east Tulsa is not surprising. Maps of election results showing support for various tax increases, of where appointees to city boards and commissions live, and of those selected to the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners reveal a common pattern.
I've labeled it the "Money Belt"--a band of Tulsa's wealthiest neighborhoods running south-southeast from downtown through Maple Ridge, Utica Square, and Southern Hills then fanning out into the gated communities of south Tulsa.
It's unfortunate that survey responses were classified by zip code only. It would have been interesting to see responses by square mile or by precinct to see if the Money Belt pattern held up.
How to plug north, east, and west Tulsa into the city's collective decision-making process, how we create an infrastructure for civic dialogue is something that will need to be addressed as the planning process moves forward.
Rather called the skepticism about carrying out the plan "pervasive." It came up both in the in-depth interviews and in the broader survey polling. She said, "A lot of people feel like it doesn't matter how you plan. Folks that have a lot of money, or a lot of influence get to do what they want."
Rather characterized what she was hearing from Tulsans about the planning: "We engage in the public process, we go to these meetings, we do the hard work, but at the end of the day our expectations are not met." She urged action to ensure that this plan has a real chance to avoid that fate.
Maybe the most hopeful sign was that there was near-unanimous agreement with this statement: "Assuming people like me participate in the plan and the plan is carried out fairly by the city, I think Tulsa will change for the better as a result of it." Ninety-one percent of Tulsans concurred, with no significant variation across the city.
But there are two very big assumptions in that statement.
The second assumption is at the mercy of city officials. The approval of the Bomasada development in Brookside by the TMAPC and the Council and the TMAPC's approval last week of John Bumgarner's rezoning of the southwest corner of 14th and Utica from residential to high-intensity office both send the signal to the public that plans don't matter in Tulsa. If someone has enough money and influence, he can build anything he wants, anywhere he wants.
The river tax vote demonstrated that, even a recent plan, developed with a great deal of community input, will be drastically modified if someone wealthy demands it as a condition of a gift. (That perception is reinforced by how much time and effort was invested in discussing the $788 million Channels concept, an even more radical departure from the river plan developed by INCOG.)
We're over a year away from our next city election, and that will be the next opportunity to fix this problem by electing a mayor and councilors who have the backbone to say no to the rich and powerful.
The fulfillment of that first assumption is in the hands of everyone reading this column. You have friends, family, neighbors, and associates. You belong to churches and clubs. You talk to people at work. You need to encourage every Tulsan you know to set aside either September 22 or 23 to participate in one of the citywide workshops. One will be held during the day, the other will be held in the evening.
The more Tulsans participate, the more representative the result will be. First we help put together the best plan possible, and then we watch closely, make noise, and change leaders if necessary to ensure that the plan is carried out.
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