I am an inner-city real estate developer, home builder and a Tulsa resident.
I'm also a member of the nearly 100-strong Citizen Committee that has provided feedback and guidance to PLANiTULSA from the beginning, along with the Homebuilders Association, INCOG and many others. I've been hugely impressed by the inclusiveness, transparency and responsiveness of the whole process. We've been reading the plan as it has evolved, with our input, throughout many months.
The final draft has been online since mid-January, and I appreciate the month since then to study it in detail.
It's been helpful to read the online feedback from many other people, too. I also appreciate the small and dedicated team of talented professionals -- both the City's own staff and the consultants -- who have made the process as transparent as possible.
PLANiTULSA is the most important project undertaken by the City in 35 years. I strongly urge you (Michelle Cantrell) and your fellow members to vote unanimously in support of it. I hope you will encourage the Mayor and Council to implement its policies and strategies as rapidly as possible. Here's why:
We're losing the competitive race, and our present strategies have failed -- badly.
1. We rank 48th out of 50 in "sustainability" among the U.S.A's "most populous cities."
2. Tulsa is two-and-a-half times more dangerous than the national average for pedestrians.
3. We invest less than half the national average in pedestrian- and cyclist-related infrastructure.
4. Tulsa invests 75 percent less per person on pedestrian projects than Oklahoma City (even before MAPS 3).
5. We have an over-abundance of pedestrian-unfriendly highways that are capable of serving more than double Tulsa's current population. (So, Tulsans bear a disproportionate, infrastructure maintenance tax-burden.)
6. We have inadequate mass transit relative to latent demand, and we are about to reduce services further.
7. MTTA's viability and functionality is impaired by low density development. (Tulsa's population density is 70 percent lower than L.A., and 40 percent lower than Dallas.)
8. We rank very poorly against other cities nationwide in terms of "well-being."
9. Tulsa has an aging population in "abysmal" health, with a declining life-expectancy, arising in large part from behaviors leading to obesity, diabetes and heart disease (such as lack of exercise, auto-dependency and poor diet).
10. Life-expectancy in North Tulsa is a shocking 14 years below that of south Tulsa.
11. Tulsa has an under-invested urban core. Following 50 years of decline, Tulsa's downtown is 20 years behind other cities in terms of economic revival.
12. Our high ozone levels are a serious health issue, especially for children and the elderly. Tulsa is unlikely to meet the new, stricter EPA ozone standard.
13. We have a static population (at best).
14. We continue to lose our educated young people to places like Portland.
15. We continue to lose sales taxes to surrounding communities.
We're broke, and we invest unwisely.
Tulsa has built enough road infrastructures to serve a city with twice our population.
We've over-spent on widening roads that lead out of Tulsa, effectively pouring tax dollars into other municipalities while neglecting our core neighborhoods. We've gone out of our way to make it very convenient and profitable for home-builders to desert Tulsa and build housing in suburban communities.
The cost of maintaining this street infrastructure is also draining away funds that could have been invested in adding value to amenities for our children, our neighborhoods and parks, our after-school programs, usable sidewalks, housing, neighborhood policing and more.
Meanwhile, we make it very difficult for home-builders like me to stay in Tulsa: Home-builders whose mission is to re-create compact, walkable, viable, urban neighborhoods. I can tell you that Tulsa's antiquated zoning code is totally unsuited to deliver a sustainable, urban environment.
Research shows that low-density sprawl costs tax payers more than it generates in sales and property taxes. It is proven by research across the country. Yet our policies keep on promoting sprawl.
We don't even evaluate public investment properly before we spend the money. The City does not even seek to deliver a real return on increasingly scarce tax payer dollars. We must change this urgently, and PLANiTULSA provides rational strategies to enable us to do so.
Thirty percent of the population does not drive a car. We need to provide a city that is easily accessible for more older people, smaller households, more singles, children and a growing population of people with physical challenges--all of whom have as much right to access to amenities as anyone who happens to be inside a car.
For too long Tulsa has relied on generous, local foundations and philanthropists to rescue us from wasteful, outdated development models and policies. We've been doing many things for many years that have been utterly counter-productive, and it's time to grow up and embrace the future in a mature, coherent and strategic way.
A vote against PLANiTULSA would be a vote against responsible management and against planning for a fiscally sustainable future.
The world is changing, and we're not dealing with it.
Until PLANiTULSA, we have been in denial about the need for change. Tulsa's past is littered with reports from previous planning exercises, including Step Up Tulsa, The Chamber's 2004 Lifestyles Report and the 1999 Infill Task Force Report. Going back to the 1970s, we ignored Mayor Robert LaFortune's Vision 2000, which was trashed by the subsequent administration.
The City has walked away from all these, whether through apathy, a failure of political leadership or a failure to grasp the seriousness of the issues -- and the opportunities.
The result has been a dysfunctional city government where neighborhood planning has been largely ignored -- even when such neighborhood planning is better researched and more progressive than the City's own bureaucracy.
Entire paradigm shifts are taking place around us -- in demographics, technology, the environment, macro-economics and health. Our present development models don't respond to these challenges. Our current comprehensive plan and zoning code aren't merely 35 years out of date: they are about as relevant as Stonehenge to the job facing us.
A paradigm shift is also taking place in federal government, which does recognize these challenges. The DOT, HUD and EPA have made clear a new emphasis on integrating solutions, on sustaining neighborhoods and on mass transit. Federal funding policies have been transformed, and Tulsa must align itself to take advantage of them. It's essential that we be at least as eligible for funding as other cities -- and preferably more so. Cities that we compete with are adapting to a changing world. Again, PLANiTULSA equips us to do this effectively.
PLANiTULSA is "Business Friendly." "Business As Usual" Isn't.
I've worked in half a dozen industries throughout 30 years. What will make Tulsa business-friendly is to recognize and adapt to change and to deliver the kind of urban environments that bright, young, qualified, energetic people want to be in.
These include vital, attractive, walkable neighborhoods, viable transportation choices, bike trails and parks -- a place where local entrepreneurs can thrive, have fun and settle down.
We also need a city in which workers of all incomes have viable transportation options for getting to work, and are not obliged to buy a car. PLANiTULSA caters for this outcome.
Every business manager knows that she or he cannot "cut" their way to prosperity, by continually cutting salaries, people and services -- as the City of Tulsa is now having to do. She must devise new strategies, new ways of competing, offer new products, invest in and motivate talented people; she must change the organization, improve systems and expedite processes. This is more true today than ever before.
PLANiTULSA provides the strategic framework within which to achieve this.
It is important to realize that PLANiTULSA is also a marketing tool. Provided that the Mayor implements it and Council stays focused on it, it gives investors a clear understanding of our community's values, goals, strategies and plans. That inspires confidence. Investors want to be sure that the City knows where it's going and is committed to getting there.
Your adoption of PLANiTULSA is a rallying cry that will reach investors both here and elsewhere, whether they be home-builders, master planners, high-tech entrepreneurs, assembly plants, health organizations, universities, researchers or whatever.
So I hope no one tells you that PLANiTULSA needs to be tinkered with, that it is anti-business, or anti-development, or that it is fundamentally flawed. It isn't.
A vote against PLANiTULSA would be a vote against our ability to compete for business.
Six thousand People have participated in PLANiTULSA and voted very clearly.
... And up to another 100 worked on the citizens committee. A vote against PLANiTULSA would kick sand in the eye of 6,000 engaged Tulsans whose views, expressed in workshops, solicited online and in public meetings, were overwhelmingly in favor of substantive change.
So PLANiTULSA is the work not only of consultants but of several thousand Tulsa residents. The cost of $1.3 million doesn't include the dollar value of the countless volunteer hours of residents who have participated. If you make the conservative assumption that each of those Tulsans spent two hours on it, and if you valued their work at a modest $25 an hour, that's another $300,000 of consultancy services. And many Tulsans -- including Commission members -- have spent far more than a couple of hours on it.
PLANiTULSA has been the most strategic, transparent, inclusive, public process ever conducted in Tulsa. It's the first, encouraging sign that we're truly growing up.
In summary, major changes are going on around us. We must respond to them. We cannot "cut" our way to prosperity: We have to grow the business. To compete effectively with other cities we have to apply the kind of strategies contained in PLANiTULSA to make Tulsa much more livable. We must adopt new, much more sustainable strategies that benefit all Tulsans, equitably.
And please beware of folks who lack entrepreneurial imagination, or who are locked into a comfortable status quo, or who are unwilling to tweak their business models for the 21st Century.
PLANiTULSA is for all Tulsans, and for our children, not for individual constituencies. It lays the ground for everything else in our collective future. If it works for ordinary people, it works for business.
So please adopt it as soon as possible, and let's get moving on implementing it. And thank you for the volunteer time you dedicate to making Tulsa a better place in which to live.
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