Next Monday and Wednesday evening (Jan. 26 and 28), Tulsans will gather in north, west, and midtown Tulsa to continue the process of developing the city's first comprehensive plan in a generation.
Last fall, about 1,200 Tulsans participated in three citywide workshops. Each table of ten participants spent a couple of hours placing stickers, representing different types of development, on a large, detailed map of the City of Tulsa.
Fregonese and Association, the firm that was hired to conduct the Tulsa planning effort, has done these workshops all over the country, and Tulsa's turnout is the biggest they've ever seen. The response required adding a workshop to handle the overflow.
From the response, it's evident that Tulsans from all walks of life want a say in the future direction of the city. Every zip code in the city was represented, with the strongest per capita response in northwest, north, south, downtown, and midtown (both the wealthier southwestern part and the more working-class northeastern part).
The digitizing and analysis of those sticker placements showed a strong interest in mixed-use development that's denser and more urban than the kind of growth typical for Tulsa.
(You can find a presentation of the preliminary analysis of the citywide workshops, plus maps and details of the small-area studies, at planitulsa.org.)
Exactly how that kind of development should happen at the micro-level, street by street and lot by lot, is what participants in the small-area workshop will consider.
Like the citywide workshops, next week's three events at Webster High School, Hawthorne Elementary School, and First Evangelical Lutheran Church will involve big maps and stickers, but the small-area workshops will have 60 to 100 people, the maps will cover a much smaller area (one to two square miles, more or less), and the stickers will represent individual building types rather than 40 or 80 acres of a type of development.
All told, seven small-area workshops will be held. They cannot and are not intended to cover the whole city but rather to take a detailed look at a fairly representative sample of neighborhood situations.
That's why, even if you don't have a direct stake in one of the seven zones, you ought to take part in one of these workshops. These workshops will influence the scenarios and detailed recommendations that will ultimately come before elected officials as the comprehensive plan for the entire city.
Two workshops were held Dec. 9, covering a largely developed area around Booker T. Washington High School and a largely undeveloped area around Eastland Metroplex (formerly Eastland Mall).
Despite the distractions of the pre-Christmas shopping season and the discomforts of a day when the wind did a 180, dropping temperatures from the 50s to the 20s and kicking up some bitter northerly gusts, the northside workshop drew more than 60 participants, as Brandon Honig reported in the Dec. 18-24 issue of UTW.
The eastside workshop covered a half-mile either side of 21st Street, from about 137th East Ave. to 161st East Ave. Except for a few businesses, churches, and houses, the area east of 145th is almost completely undeveloped. The eastside turnout was only about half that of the northside workshop, perhaps because the targeted area is so sparsely populated.
The map for the December northside workshop covered the square mile between Pine and Apache, Peoria and Lewis, plus another quarter-mile or so around that perimeter. The area under consideration included the shopping center at Pine and Peoria (including the vacant supermarket location), Washington High School, Lacy Park, and part of the Lansing Industrial Park.
The area, split by US 75, is mostly developed, but some large vacant tracts are still open, and there are scattered vacant lots in residential areas.
That's last month.
Here are the three workshops for next week.
The area to be studied Monday, Jan. 26 at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 13th and Utica, has the Forest Orchard neighborhood and the Hillcrest Medical Center campus at its core.
But the map extends over a broader area, from 5th Pl. south to 17th St., from IDL & Detroit east to Atlanta. That includes Tracy Park, Village at Central Park, and part of the Kendall-Whittier, Pearl District, North Maple Ridge, Swan Lake, Yorktown, Gillette, Terrace Drive, and Lewiston Gardens neighborhoods.
Forest Orchard has been overlooked until recently. It's south of the Pearl District, north of Swan Lake and Cherry Street, hemmed in by Hillcrest on the east and Peoria on the west, and split by the Broken Arrow Expressway.
The part of the neighborhood south of the expressway has seen massive redevelopment, with pricey modern lofts replacing bungalows, and a good deal of bare dirt that has been cleared for new projects.
Cherry Street was kick-started in the '80s by entrepreneurs who found an inexpensive place to set up shop in the pre-war commercial buildings along 15th St. Its revival has attracted new residents who like the idea of being within walking distances of cozy coffee shops, neighborhood pubs, and a variety of restaurants.
The same sort of redevelopment could happen north of the expressway, a mixture of bungalows, classic pre-war walkup apartment buildings, and post-war apartment complexes, with some traditional neighborhood commercial buildings along 11th St. But what would upscale redevelopment do to the affordability of close-to-work housing for hospital employees and downtown workers?
Workshop participants may look at special challenges to getting around the district. Key north-south links at Peoria, St. Louis, and Utica could be made more inviting to pedestrians, knitting the two sides of the expressway together. Car traffic patterns, complicated by no-left-turn restrictions and one-way traffic on the service roads, deserve review.
It's helpful that this planning exercise extends beyond Forest Orchard. No neighborhood in central Tulsa is an island. The connections between this neighborhood and its surroundings are crucial to the bigger aim of reweaving the city center's urban fabric.
City planner Ed Sharrer's apt quote is worth re-quoting: Tulsa has some great places, but we don't have enough places between the places. Forest Orchard is a key link in the network of neighborhoods connecting downtown, the TU campus, and already-revitalized neighborhoods south of 15th St.
Another northside section, centered on Northland Shopping Center, will be the subject of the other Monday, Jan. 26, workshop, to be held at Hawthorne Elementary School, just west of Peoria on 33rd St. North.
Reaching from Frankfort on the west to Xanthus Pl. on the east, 40th Pl N. to Apache, the map includes Whitman and Hawthorne Schools, Tulsa Technology Center North Campus, and the Comanche Park apartment complex.
Eyeballing the map, about a third of the land, some of it in the floodplain of Dirty Butter and Flat Rock Creeks, appears never to have been developed. Still more territory has only seen the sparse sort of roadside development you find on the outskirts of a city. (Peoria Ave. was the main road to Sperry, Skiatook, and Pawhuska.)
It's a low-income, predominantly African-American area of post-war tract housing with few jobs and few shopping options. True to the era in which it was built, there is no walkable neighborhood commercial center. Northland, on par with southside suburban shopping centers when it was built, is a ghost of its former self.
The long-planned Gilcrease Expressway will eventually cross the area from east to west. Citizen planners at the workshop will consider how to make the most of that opportunity.
Next Wednesday, Jan. 28, the Webster High School cafeteria will host a southwest Tulsa workshop, with a map stretching from 36th St. to 51st St. (I-44), and from 38th West Ave to Union Ave.
The workshop area includes the city's first "Main Street" project along Southwest Blvd. through the once-independent municipality of Red Fork, with neighborhoods and shopping areas of many different vintages.
Westsiders who like living in a well-kept secret might prefer I not mention this, but if you've only driven through west Tulsa on the interstates, you don't know what you're missing. The old westside neighborhoods are like a small town within the city. Take a drive sometime down 41st between Southwest and Union and then past Webster's tree-shaded Art Deco campus to see for yourself.
But its commercial heart, Crystal City, has seen better days, and it's bound to be a major topic of discussion at Wednesday's workshop.
The final two small-area workshops will happen in late February. One will focus on the area around Southcrest Hospital at 91st and US 169. That developing part of southeast Tulsa has seen a number of recent zoning controversies.
The other will cover the University of Tulsa campus and surrounding neighborhoods, another area where an institution's expansion needs could clash with the need for nearby homeowners and business owners to have a degree of certainty about the future. The map boundaries are still to be determined but may include part of Kendall-Whittier, Turner Park, Fair Park, and Renaissance neighborhoods.
Late February is also the expected date for one more citywide workshop, this one dealing specifically with transportation.
To those who nominated workshop areas that didn't make the cut, don't despair. The city's planners will retain the same analysis software used by the Fregonese team, enabling them to extend the small-area workshop process throughout Tulsa.
You can pre-register for all three January workshops at planitulsa.org or by phone at 576-5684. Each workshop will run from 6pm to 9pm. Doors open at 5:30 for registration and refreshments.
Citizen-driven planning only works if citizens participate. Please make plans to participate actively in one or more of these events.
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