A map can be defined as a two-dimensional representation of geographical reality.
But some maps can determine geographical reality far into the future.
When the monarchs of the Iberian peninsula drew a line on a map 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands, they fated Brazil to speak Portuguese and the rest of Latin America to speak Spanish.
A 19th century line drawn by the U. S. government at 36 degrees, 30 minutes north of the equator divided slave territories from free territories and set the stage for a bloody Civil War.
In 1956, city planners sketched a spider web of lines over a map of Tulsa. Fifty-two years later, nearly every one of those lines has become an expressway, as the planners of the '50s intended. Those lines also became barriers dividing north and south Tulsa, splitting neighborhoods in two, and isolating downtown from the surrounding neighborhoods.
In 1957, planners published a comprehensive planning map, which prescribed the basic pattern for new development in the suburbs, with commercial areas at arterial nodes, buffered by office and multifamily housing from exclusively residential areas, served by winding collector streets.
Two years later, Harold Wise published A Plan for Central Tulsa, which called for a superblock office-retail development around 1st and Main and pedestrianized streets connecting it with the Civic Center. It took nearly another 20 years, and there are some differences in the details, but what Wise planned largely came to pass.
In the '60s zoning officials drew a line looping around most of the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood between Lewis Ave., 11th St., and the University of Tulsa's then-tiny campus. The area was upzoned to multifamily, beginning the conversion of the neighborhood from single-family homes to shabby single-story, single-lot quadplexes. Years later, the resulting blight allowed the city to justify condemning the property for TU's campus expansion.
In the 1970s, the Vision 2000 planning process brought together citizen planning teams for more than two dozen districts covering the city and county. These teams met for months, placing every square foot of land within a broad development category, such as high-intensity industrial or low-intensity residential.
Although the resulting Comprehensive Plan is often amended retroactively to reflect a development that was allowed contrary to the plan, it has nevertheless influenced the shape of the city.
For better or worse, we are living with the consequences of maps that were marked up decades ago.
Later this month, hundreds (or, we hope, thousands) of Tulsans will gather around tables and place brightly-colored stickers on maps. In the process, they'll help to determine what Tulsa will look like 50 years hence.
The mapmaking exercise is an important step in the PLANiTULSA process for developing Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation, but you won't need a degree in urban planning to participate.
All you need is a heart for our city, some time, and some ideas for how to make it a better place to live, work, and play.
PLANiTULSA will hold two citywide workshops, hoping to maximize participation by offering both evening and daytime options. The workshops will be held Monday, Sept. 22, from 6 to 9pm at the Greenwood Cultural Center, and on Tuesday, Sept. 23, from 1 to 4pm at the BOK Center.
There will be refreshments at the Monday evening session, and you'll be able to buy a box lunch prior to the Tuesday afternoon session.
To sign up as a participant, visit planitulsa.org and fill out a form online for the session you wish to attend, or phone the PLANiTULSA office at 576-5684.
Though the sessions are not designed to be as inclusive as they could be (imagine two working parents trying to get their children from soccer practice, to dinner, to homework and tucked into bed) and not, as of yet, publicized with the vim and vigor of the major project it will become, these sessions are worth citizens' every effort to attend.
Each session will begin with a presentation on the state of the metropolitan Tulsa region, looking at demographic trends, forecasts of population and job growth--not only how much, but where--if current trends continue.
The presentation will also cover some basic city planning principles, and you'll be shown pictures of different building types and development styles and asked to rank them by preference.
The introductory presentation will give you some concepts and planning terms--a lexicon for discussing your ideas about the city's future with your fellow citizen-planners.
All this is in preparation, laying the ground work for the mapping exercise which will take up most of the workshop. The workshop concept is one that Fregonese Associates, the consulting team leading Tulsa's PLANiTULSA process, has used for planning efforts across the country.
The Tulsa Game
You'll be at a table with seven to 11 other people. On the table will be a large and complex map of the City of Tulsa.
The map will have the usual streets, highways, and bodies of water, overlaid on satellite imagery, but it will be colored to show how the land is currently being used--yellow for single-family residential, orange for multi-family residential, red for commercial, light blue for office, dark blue for industrial.
Physical features that hinder development--flood-prone areas and steep slopes--will also be highlighted on the map.
For reference, the map will show development in surrounding cities and unincorporated areas, but the focus is on territory within Tulsa's city limits, shown on the map with a heavy line.
(It's unclear, at this writing, whether the map will include unincorporated areas that Tulsa may annex in the future. Tulsa's corporate limits include some narrow strips of land--"fence lines"--which surround several square miles each in Osage County, north Tulsa County between Owasso and Sperry, and Rogers County, extending out to the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. The fence lines protect these areas from annexation by another municipality.)
You and your fellow mappers will be attempting to answer several interrelated questions: Where should new population growth and job growth occur? Which areas, such as historic neighborhoods or open space, should be protected from new development? How will the location of new development affect requirements for new infrastructure?
You'll be given a set of game chips to put on the map. The chips--actually stickers--represent 13 different kinds of development. Each set will have a different combination of chips sufficient to accommodate Tulsa's projected housing and job growth over the next several decades. The chips are scaled to the map.
Your table will have a choice of chip sets, and you'll be able to trade chips with a "bank," as long as those you cash in and those you take out cover an equivalent number of jobs and people.
The 13 types are:
Transit Oriented Development
As a city that has done most of its growing up during the age of the personal automobile, Tulsa has a lot more subdivisions, business parks, light industry, and strip commercial development types, than it does urban villages, main streets, or transit-oriented developments. One of the questions you and your table will answer is whether Tulsa should add more developments of these types and, if so, where.
There are environmental, infrastructure, and land use constraints to be considered as you and your group decide where different sorts of growth ought to go. You'll also have transportation stickers, representing different types of additions or changes to Tulsa's transportation network.
The workshops' organizers emphasize that you won't be limited to concepts that can be expressed with the provided set of stickers. The facilitators at each table are encouraged to "write, label, draw, sketch, cut, and paste any and all of (the participants') agreed-upon ideas on the map or in the margins."
Those facilitators are important to the workshops, but they're not meant to be influential. Many who have been asked to serve as facilitators are planning to facilitate at one workshop, but attend the other as a participant, so they can have their say, too.
Your table's facilitator is instructed to be passive and neutral in terms of the ideas that are to discussed, but he or she will be there as a resource to explain concepts, development types, and map markings when asked, to summarize accurately your table's ideas, to keep the process moving through all its steps, and to make sure everyone at the table has a chance to be heard, drawing out the quieter participants.
The instructions note: "Experience has shown that often quiet participants are in fact actively processing information and have many great ideas to share."
The mapping exercise is broken down into 11 steps:
Introductions -- tell who you are and what you hope to accomplish, write your name on the map, and locate where you live and work on the map, as a way of getting your bearings.
Get to know the materials---the map and its markings, the chips, and other bits and pieces.
Identify the table's goals for the workshop map regarding land use, development, housing, and transportation.
Reserve locations for new open spaces and parks. Although it's not spelled out in the facilitators' instructions, this would seem like the appropriate stage for identifying neighborhoods and commercial areas that ought to be preserved as is.
Go through the chips and chip sets--the different development types and transportation options, the rules for trading chips, and the different combinations of chips available to the group at your table.
Pick which chip set to start with. The table has the option to revisit this decision if time allows.
Put the development chips on the map, but don't stick them down just yet. This is the heart of the exercise. Your table can exchange one kind of chip for another using the trading rules or can cut chips into smaller pieces to represent smaller areas.
Put the transportation chips on the map. You could add new transportation capacity to support the new development you've identified, or your table might decide to move the development to fit better with the capacity of Tulsa's existing transportation network.
Review the map and compare what you have to your table's initial goals. Make adjustments if desired.
Stick the chips on the map.
Give the map a descriptive name and pick someone to present it.
At the end of the workshop, someone from each table will present its map to the rest of the workshop, summarizing the planning decisions that each table made.
What happens to the maps after that? First, they're made available for public, online viewing. After Fregonese Associates conducted a similar workshop in the Grand Traverse region of northern Michigan, high resolution images of each map were posted on the Flickr photo sharing website. (You can see them at http://www.flickr.com/photos/thegrandvision/. The planning project's website is thegrandvision.org)
Following the workshops, the professional planning team will analyze, record, and digitize the information and comments each table put on its map. The planning team will then use the maps to begin building alternative scenarios for growth and development.
There will be further public workshops in January, but these will focus on planning for specific small areas around Tulsa. The planning team is already beginning to take nominations for the nine areas that will be the subject of these special workshops.
The citywide maps and the small area maps will feed into a set of alternative scenarios to be presented for public comment in the spring of 2009. Those public comments will drive the development of a vision document, to be released next summer, followed by a draft plan and implementation in the fall of 2009.
To be adopted formally as the city's comprehensive plan, it will need to be considered and approved by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) and the Tulsa City Council. That is projected to occur sometime next year, between October and December of 2009.
The earlier part of that window of time coincides with the next election for Mayor and City Council, and it may be that the implementation and adoption of a new comprehensive plan is the central issue of the campaign.
The survey of a thousand Tulsans conducted by Collective Strength as an initial step in the PLANiTULSA process identified a strong concern that the process will be dominated by special interest groups motivated by their own profits -- the development industry, for example.
To paraphrase some wise man, dilution is the solution to special-interest pollution. The way to make sure that your perspective on Tulsa's future is represented in the results of the citywide workshops is to show up yourself and to bring along as many people as you can who share your concerns.
If you're worried that other tables at the workshop will use your part of town as a dumping ground for undesirable but necessary kinds of development, bring your neighbors along and spread out among as many tables as possible, to be sure that participants from other parts of Tulsa hear about the qualities and potential of your neighborhood from the people who know it best.
Power to the People, Revisited
You're to be forgiven for thinking that this process is reminiscent of something that happened a mere six years ago.
When Bill LaFortune ran for Mayor in 2002, he promised to convene a summit, within his first 100 days in office, to develop a "shared regional vision."
On July 9, 2002, his 100th day as Mayor, 1,100 Tulsans took the day off work and gathered at the Maxwell Convention Center. The crowd was more than three times bigger than the event planners' most optimistic projections, demonstrating a broad and deep desire to talk about Tulsa's future.
These Tulsans heard from former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, former Tulsa Mayors Rodger Randle and Bob LaFortune, and many other distinguished speakers.
One of the speakers that day was Glen Hiemstra, a futurist. He took the blurry and vague notion of "vision" and gave it a concrete and clear definition: "A vision is a compelling description of your preferred future."
Hiemstra told the crowd, "You ought to think about the future vision of Tulsa so that you can take that vision that materializes--that shared understanding of the preferred future--fold it back on the present and see more clearly what we ought to be doing right now, right here."
The kind of vision Hiemstra described is not mere wishful thinking. It's setting a destination for a journey so that you can begin to plan the route that will take you there.
After the speeches that day in 2002, the assembled Tulsans gathered around tables and responded to questions and brainstormed ideas for making Tulsa a better place. The ideas were collated and condensed into a spreadsheet.
You can still find the presentations from the 2002 summit and a thousand pages worth of responses from the vision summit participants online at the TulsaNow.org website (www.tulsanow.org/summit).
It is apparent from those responses that the gathered Tulsans were mainly concerned about issues that would be addressed in an update of the comprehensive plan. Specific projects were much lower down the priority list.
The vision summit responses would have been a great starting point for a new comprehensive plan to succeed the quarter-century-old plan developed during the administration of Mayor Bob LaFortune, Bill's uncle.
But that isn't what happened. Instead of addressing an overall vision for the city's future growth, the process was merged with a county "Dialog" process, and the focus switched to ideas for specific government-funded projects.
Tulsa city and county leaders discarded the idea of creating a shared vision that would guide the development of public and private initiatives to advance that vision. Interests that had long been pushing for a new downtown sports arena repurposed the "Dialog/Visioning" process as a vehicle for propelling their pet cause.
What should have been a cohesive and compelling description of our preferred future became instead a collection of pork barrel projects, enough for each suburb and constituency to get the votes needed to pass a sports arena tax at long last.
While LaFortune promised that the vision process would continue beyond the "Vision 2025" county sales tax election, it didn't.
Meanwhile, Tulsa was in turmoil over conflicts about land use and zoning and about the growth of the suburbs at the expense of the region's metropolis.
In 2003, City Councilors Chris Medlock and Joe Williams attempted to establish a "future growth task force" to discuss these issues, but LaFortune blocked the 6-3 council majority that supported the idea. LaFortune allowed the objections of east and south Tulsa Councilors Art Justis, Randy Sullivan, and Bill Christiansen to serve as a veto on the idea.
A more neighborhood-friendly Council majority, elected in 2004, put zoning and development issues back on the front burner, and in June 2005, the Council passed a resolution to launch the development of a new comprehensive plan.
A task force developed a process for a new plan, which was adopted by the Council in December 2005. In the waning days of Mayor LaFortune's term, $500,000 for the comprehensive plan was included in the "Third Penny" sales tax extension, approved by voters in May 2006.
Implementation of that process languished until late in 2006, when a steering committee was appointed. In 2007 planning staffers from the City's Urban Development Department began speaking to groups and gatherings all over Tulsa, asking for input that would be used to guide the selection of a planning consultant.
After planning firms from around the nation presented their proposals, this last March the steering committee recommended the selection of Portland-based Fregonese Associates.
PLANiTULSA officially kicked off in May, the end of a beginning that lasted over half a decade.
In his initial presentation at the kickoff, planner John Fregonese described the typical approach to city development--city leaders plan projects, fund them, and build them.
Fregonese identified three elements that are essential but absent from that approach: Values (What do people want?), vision (How will our city provide it?), and strategy (How do we implement it?).
Without values, vision, and strategy, you can spend years and billions of dollars planning, funding, and building projects, but it won't get Tulsa to its desired destination, because we won't have defined one.
Collective Strength's survey of a thousand Tulsans revealed a deep and pervasive cynicism about the value of public input in a planning process.
Robin Rather, the research firm's head, characterized the attitude of respondents as, "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."
The City's Urban Development Department and the Fregonese team appear eager to dispel that cynicism. Their willingness to publicize the not-so-positive opinions expressed by Tulsa citizens demonstrates a commitment to hearing what we have to say, no matter what powerful interest is offended.
If you want your vision for Tulsa's future to be heard, the first step is to register at planitulsa.org and then show up at the citywide PLANiTULSA workshops on September 22 or 23, ready to talk about your ideas and dreams for Tulsa.
Once we Tulsans have spoken, the next step is to apply political pressure to ensure that our voice is heeded.
Staying home and staying silent will guarantee that this comprehensive plan, the first in a generation, will be some self-interested industry's compelling description of their preferred future, not ours.
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