About 500 Tulsans were present at Cain's Ballroom on Tuesday, March 13, to see the unveiling of four scenarios for Tulsa's future growth and development. A short presentation was followed by dozens of spirited conversations that spilled out on to Main Street and down the hill into Soundpony and Lola's and other Brady Arts District establishments.
The event launched a survey called "Which Way, Tulsa?" It's the latest step in the PLANiTULSA process of developing a new comprehensive plan for our city.
Four different directions have been offered for the public's consideration:
Scenario A, "Trends Continue": Continue along our current path, with most new development and population growth in the suburbs.
Scenario B, "Main Streets": New growth in and near downtown and along street and transit corridors. These corridors become like Main Streets, centers of activity for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Scenario C, "New Centers": New growth is concentrated in and around new hubs of activity with significant concentrations along N. Peoria; along 21st & 145th East Ave. in east Tulsa, and along US 75 south of I-44 in southwest Tulsa.
Scenario D, "Centered City": New growth is focused on downtown and surrounding areas and along transit corridors; the lion's share of transportation dollars goes to mass transit instead of roads.
Scenarios B, C, and D all represent a significant departure from the trend. Although the three differ in emphasis, you can find elements of each in the other two. All three involve medium- to high-density development in downtown. "Main Streets" has new centers (albeit less concentrated) along the BA at Memorial and Garnett, and around 71st and US 75. "New Centers" and "Centered City" have Main Street development along 11th St., Peoria, and elsewhere.
Between now and June 18th, Tulsans can express their preference by filling out the survey in the back of the glossy "Which Way, Tulsa?" brochure produced by PlaniTulsa or rating the scenarios online at planitulsa.org.
In the days since the launch, I've heard a number of anxieties expressed about the survey and how the results will be used. Let me try to respond to the concerns.
First, it's important to understand that we're not voting on a final comprehensive plan. The maps may create the impression that, by voting for a particular scenario, you'd be voting to redevelop or up-zone a specific piece of land as depicted on the scenario map. That's not the case.
The general direction and preferences expressed in the survey results will be used to guide the planning team in creating a draft comprehensive plan.
But there are specifics (a lot of them) backing up each scenario. The Fregonese team placed specific types of development at specific locations, in line with each scenario's general approach, and fed those specifics into their computer models to calculate selected indicators, such as population growth, housing mix, job growth, commute time, land consumption and emissions.
The indicators that were deemed to be of general interest were published in the "Which Way, Tulsa?" booklet; more can be found on the planitulsa.org Web site.
The survey at the back of the booklet (and online) allows you to choose the preferred scenario according to each of seven different criteria and then to pick an overall favorite and second favorite scenario.
The planning team will tabulate the survey results and create a draft comprehensive plan. What that plan looks like will depend on whether one scenario is a strong favorite or multiple scenarios have strong support. If a favored scenario is weak for a specific criterion, the draft plan would be tweaked accordingly to address the shortcoming.
The draft plan, which will be detailed and specific, should be released sometime this fall. Public feedback will be used to refine the draft comprehensive plan before it goes to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) and the City Council for adoption.
Only a New Beginning
But there's much more to be done once the plan is adopted. City officials will have to decide if and when to fund new roads and transit. Scenarios B, C, and D all assume the use of new mixed-use development types that are currently either illegal or not economically feasible under Tulsa's zoning code and development standards. The city's ordinances will need to be amended if we want to depart significantly from our current development trend.
Even then, it will still be up to private developers and investors to turn development concepts in the plan into real buildings and neighborhoods.
Another frequently voiced worry goes like this: "There's a pink or purple blob right over my house! I like this scenario in general, but I don't want ugly infill development in my neighborhood."
The colors on the scenario maps, ranging from light pink to dark purple, show where new development would go and how dense it would be; the darker the color, the higher the density. The blobby shapes on the map aren't meant to be precise: "The four scenarios present generalized concepts of how the City can grow."
The guiding principles for the PLANiTULSA process, adopted in February by the citizens' advisory committee, affirm a commitment to protecting the history and character of our neighborhoods:
"Future development should protect historic buildings, area neighborhoods and natural resources while also enhancing urban areas and creating new mixed-use centers where people can find everything they need in vibrant communities. It's vitally important that the look and feel of new construction complement and enhance existing neighborhoods, rather than simply being added on."
Carrying out this principle, the PLANiTULSA team created a map showing areas of change and stability, accompanied by a statement which shows that the planners get the difference between good infill and bad. The areas of stability include "environmental areas such as rivers, creeks, floodplains, parks and open space; single family neighborhoods; and historic districts." In stable neighborhoods, compatibility would be the foremost criterion when building on a vacant lot or replacing a dilapidated structure.
Even if we treat areas of stability as off-limits for new development, there's plenty of room to accommodate more people and jobs within the Tulsa city limits. Scenarios B, C, and D would see Tulsa grow by 72,000, 101,000, and 102,000 new residents respectively, three to four times the 28,000 new residents we can expect if the current trends continue.
How we house all those extra people is where C differs significantly from B and D.
Under scenario C, two-thirds of additional housing over the next two decades would be single-family. That's consistent with current ratios.
Under scenario B, only a third of new housing would be single-family. Half would be multi-family and the remaining sixth would be townhouses.
Scenario D drops the single-family share down to 19 percent. Two-thirds would be multi-family, and 14 percent would be townhouses.
Despite the big differences in the mix of types for new housing, the total housing mix (old plus new) would remain majority single-family under each scenario.
For one of my friends, a resident of a suburban Tulsa subdivision, the lowest proportion of multi-family housing was reason enough to pick scenario C. But don't dismiss B and D, just because you don't like the way Tulsa has traditionally built apartments.
For many Tulsans, the phrase "multi-family housing" carries connotations of transience and impermanence, terms that could apply to the buildings and to the people who live in them. An apartment, the thinking goes, is where you live when you're just out of college or when you can't afford to own a home.
For suburbanites, multi-family calls to mind sprawling apartment complexes. Midtowners may think of the up-zoning of Riverview and Kendall-Whittier about 40 years ago from single- to multi-family, as one craftsman bungalow after another was torn down and replaced with a flat-roofed, four-unit apartment building on the same lot.
But multi-family can also mean luxury condo towers or the sort of sturdy, brick, three-story apartment buildings that coexist harmoniously with single-family homes in the Swan Lake historic district.
By lumping all types of multi-family housing together in a single percentage, the "Which Way, Tulsa?" material fails to paint a clear picture for the citizen weighing each scenario's pros and cons.
The detailed indicators (which you can find at planitulsa.org/agendas under the April 14, 2009, meeting) show that the bulk of multi-family housing for scenarios B and D would be in mixed-use developments combining residences with retail and office space. Only 15 percent of new housing units would be apartments in strictly residential developments.
It's my sense that many Tulsans would prefer not to have the hassle and expense of maintaining their own home and would opt for multi-family housing if a greater variety of living situations were available, particularly if it meant being able to live near jobs, shopping, entertainment, and transit.
I'm still mulling it over, but at the moment I'm leaning toward scenario B. The "Main Streets" concept seems to make the best use of existing infrastructure, while reconnecting Tulsa's urban fabric and improving walkability for more neighborhoods, helping to create the kind of city I'd like for myself and my children.
Whatever your preference for Tulsa's future growth, be sure to express it by filling out the "Which Way, Tulsa?" survey.
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