In December 1943, the U.S. Army-Air Force, anxious about the emerging German jet effort, met with a group of folks from Lockheed Martin -- the then leading American aviation venture. The Army-Air Force people asked the Lockheed Martin folks to develop an American jet prototype: Lockheed did so by creating a special, out-of-the-way project development space separated physically and psychologically from their main corporate campus in Burbank, Calif. The Company called the facility a "Skunk Works." Since then, similar offside, mostly experimental efforts launched by operations as varied as Xerox with its Palo Alto Research Center, GM's Volt venture space and Apple with the legendary Mac project, have also created Skunk Works like operations.
It looks as though Tulsa's still shining, still brand-new planning process, PlaniTulsa, will get underway with three new small area projects that have a Skunk Works like character: one is an attempt to ignite development/retail activity and a higher quality-of-life in a neighborhood that has very little of any of these things (Northland), the second features crafting a better footprint for a sprawling high-traffic biomedical corridor (Utica "Med") occupied by two of Tulsa's primary hospital facilities and a bevy of support operations.
Arguably, the Utica corridor plan will seek to mitigate the elevated activity levels with some on-site "buffering" efforts, including maybe on campus residential spaces for medical employees -- making use of the new "live work" arrangements that are going to be a part of our new planning process. Obviously, there are other solutions for melding a kinetic biomed hub with classic, high value neighborhoods with a strong, walkable dynamic -- and they will surely be looked at by the city/citizen team that will do the new Utica plan.
The third effort that comes by way of the small area planning process announced last week is the west side Tulsa Hills effort -- a neighborhood newly ensnarled with activity generated by an eponymous new shopping facility and a large multifamily apartment complex -- all in the midst of what had formerly been a semi rural residential neighborhood.
With the selection of Dawn Warwick, the City's new planning and economic development director, Tulsa's 2010 approved planning effort is moving toward take-off with a triple play, small area planning initiative. The effort follows nearly a dozen superficially similar small area planning efforts undertaken in Tulsa over the last decade.
The Brady Village and Pearl District plans are the most notable exemplars -- and while there are a slew of righteous complaints about the pace that Mayor Dewey Bartlett's administration has adhered to in getting Tulsa's big planning effort going, it looks as though -- with the small area pieces -- PlaniTulsa is beginning to move down the runway.
Tulsa's new city plan is an outgrowth of an extremely intensive citizens participation process. It has extraordinary moral standing as a consequence. In any case, as I've sought to highlight in these pages, PlaniTulsa is imaginative and, with careful execution, appropriate funding and inventive private engagement, would make Tulsa a much more agile, more interesting place. With some of the incentive machinery in the new plan, Tulsa could also do some of the long sought re-jiggering of growth between older areas and the City's edge that equity, logical use of public assets and land economics demands -- Northland plan is a partial response to this long standing imperative.
The "Smalls": Detail
The three small area plans focused on the old Northland Shopping Center enclave around 36th St. and N. Peoria, the newly commercializing Tulsa Hills area in still sleepy, semi-suburban West Tulsa, and the increasingly hyperkinetic hospital and biomed corridor around the St. Johns and Hillcrest medical centers -- an east/west line link from 11th to about 21st and Utica. Pat Fox Jr., a planner and transport guru, is a key member of the temp professional team put together to help work with the 10-15 member citizen teams from each of the three areas.
He says, "All three of the new small area plans are an attempt to navigate the tensions that are sometimes created between quality of life and economic development." The genesis, for example of the Northland plan, is very anemic retail and commercial development -- residents in the area have a righteous desire to see retail and some actual commercial development in an area that has long been a kind of sterile "bedroom community." In lots of ways, Northland is the more challenging and interesting of the new planning initiatives: additional commercial growth and development might be induced by a novel combination of expansion of the new Wayman Tisdale Specialty Clinic and a new multifaceted residential retirement/senior medicine complex at the space.
The Northland plan has been sparked by a group of citizens from the area and the effort has been aided mightily by Shawn Schaefer, the chief of the great OU Studio/graduate student planning effort. Interesting, the concentration of health/senior living and related care uses looks a little -- I'm reminded by my friend and planning pro Dr. Bruce Niemi -- like classic Del Webb projects. Webb was a legendary Arizona developer who crafted the "Sun City" ensemble of residential villas for affluent older people with their singular requirements. One development option for Northland: latching on to the newer and more vibrant "inter-generational" living projects launching in various parts of the country.
These mini-villas feature multifamily, super-commune like residential/care spaces where older parents, their adult kids and children live together in tightly integrated micro-communities with -- sometimes -- an onsite K-12 school and dedicated retail area. Interestingly, retired people play active roles in educating and caring for villa kids while medical, care giving and retail employees often live on the site as well. And of special interest to Northland residents -- these "inter-gen" projects employ lots of people typically.
The Tulsa Hills project is a citizen driven effort to ensure that the pace of development doesn't become too wild in the area. There are strong neighborhood concerns about the rolling range and heft of commercial projects in the space including the new shopping center, a fresh multifamily apartment complex in the immediate area, and enhanced traffic and other alternations in quality-of-life metrics at the space. The folks at Tulsa Hills want to employ the planning process to make sure that the scale, scope and pace of commercial and multi family residential development in the area remains somewhat consistent with the environ they've come to expect -- a space filled with classic modest income homes with large lot/semi rural settings.
Good Luck & Good Night
So, our new Tulsa planning process is finally underway -- let's hope that the small area planning effort, the new planning leadership at City Hall and our evolving palette of active planning, more inventive deployment of public works, thoughtful use of mixed use projects and a vibrant citizens engagement process, can produce a great result -- the balance of the PlaniTulsa effort may depend on a first class outcome.
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