One of my favorite writers is Neal Stephenson. Stephenson is a peerless science fiction wizard who has, time and time again, imagined keystone technologies years before they came to reality. His books imagined Facebook, Twitter and massive, multi-player games a decade and a half ago. He wrote recently about the still fevered computing landscape and his disappointment about the delayed appearance of "really" big stuff:
"...Well, that was interesting -- we have a whole set of new tools and capabilities that we didn't have before the whole computer/Internet thing came along... Now let's get back to work, doing interesting and useful things... The needs of the world are great: New forms of energy, space transportation and infrastructure all need to be tackled with imagination and innovation, he said... He is now pushing for a return to a can-do American culture that can "get big stuff" done."
--from Sci-Fi writer Neal Stephenson's comments in John Schwartz's Dec. 7 New York Times article.
Like Stephenson, I'm addicted to big, game altering projects. They fascinate me. Often the most enthralling efforts are imaginative re-combinations of already available technologies, concepts or institutions. That's why I'm captivated by the latest developments in Tulsa's East Village/downtown area -- a more than 115 acre space bordered by E. 2nd and 7th Sts., Detroit and Lansing Aves., just inside Tulsa's inner-dispersal loop.
The area may soon be punctuated by a novel, amenity-rich park, an array of retail/housing developments, and a profusion of novel street, pedestrian and bike pathways. This will happen soon if plans fashioned by a great real estate/open space planning team are fully funded.
But the fascinating thing is that the East Village will also be, as of last week, the location for two epic, multisided "projects" that will add outsized momentum and a brilliant overlay to an already kinetic landscape in Tulsa's downtown.
Redefining Med School
The first of the signal projects is the new OU/TU School of Community Medicine (SOCM). The project is one of the long-standing efforts of OU Tulsa Pres. Gerard Clancy, and has significant support from the Tulsa medical community and a host of local and national players. Fueled in large by George Kaiser Family Foundation donations and a $2.3 million acquisition outlay by partner University of Tulsa, the project will use the now shuttered 75,000 square foot Hartford building at 1st and Greenwood -- at the northern rim of the East Village.
SOCM is a breakout venture that redefines what a medical school is and the kind of professionals they produce. The new school is a super project that sails against some of the most powerful prevailing winds. The school is launching in a time when medicine ritually rewards hyper-specialization and does little in the way of compensating medical practitioners with great diagnostic skills or the generalist outlook of an effective family, internal or general medicine practitioner.
SOCM will focus on creating a wildly different kind of medical workforce, exploit the national healthcare reform act, and use an altered curriculum -- a passel of new compensation, quality and care management practices and a deeply grounded field orientation in its teaching and clinical programs. The project is designed from the ground up to provide a new kind of doctor and a passel of allied professionals who have a "community medicine" outlook.
The expanded SOCM school is actually a joint venture between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Tulsa. TU will provide faculty and programs in economics, bioengineering, info systems, and social/behavioral science and management/team dynamics.
Unitarian Church Makes a Big Move
The second and also very striking East Village project is the relocation of All Souls Unitarian Universalist (ASUU) Church from its midtown/Maple Ridge site in Tulsa. ASUU, the largest Unitarian Universalist church in the world, will be moving to a site bounded by Kenosha and Frankfurt Aves. and 6th and 7th Sts. on a green field super block. The ASUU congregation has an impassioned social justice outlook, a strong environmental mission and a persistent dedication to doing bold multicultural/multiracial initiatives and is led by Rev. Marlin Lavanhar.
ASUU took its fateful action after undertaking a multi-month master planning process. The epic vote took place via an intensive internal debate. Here is what one of the post-vote documents at ASUU's website conveyed about the decision:
"Leaving a neighborhood and coming into the central business district could allow us a visibility consistent with our role as an active participant in civic affairs. It would allow us to take a more central place among the leaders and shapers of Tulsa's religious life, the arts, business, civic life, and social services in Tulsa. Our public forums could be easily attended downtown, in gathering spaces that accommodate all ages and stages. Our art gallery could be accessible to thousands on foot; musical events and speaker forums would be more available to a wider variety of people."
In a compelling, post-vote video, Lavanhar explained that the new church site would put the ASUU community at the doorstep of some of Tulsa's poorest citizens, while also placing it very close to some of T-Towns most celebrated structures, powerful institutions and contentious spaces.
East Village: Two Powerful Kick Starts
The new medical school and All Souls Unitarian will be situated on a punctuated axle that extends from seventh and Frankfurt all the way up to the Hartford building at 1st and Greenwood. Collectively the projects will almost surely spark a bevy of new housing, retail, entertainment and small business activity that might have taken many years to manifest absent these two keystone efforts.
The really appealing thing about both projects: they are roaring redefinitions of classic American institutions. SOCM is a dramatic recasting of the U.S. medical school while ASUU is a re-imagining, from a physical/community network vantage, of a long established social justice church community with a deep commitment to outreach, social activism and an openly intellectual culture. Both projects re-combine established notions in agile, imaginative and aggressive ways.
And Tulsa's East Village and our entire town stand to benefit mightily.
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