President Obama's second inaugural address was surprisingly aggressive.
Oklahoma, which is hardly the president's best supporting territory, can be party to the new world a-coming: one that will be crafted by stout -- some will say brazen -- use of the president's executive authority and by hard-wrought pieces of new congressional legislation over the next four years. Both paths, if the last four years are prelude, will ignite fateful developments that will wash across our region. We can sit back and watch or we can play. Here are some random, arguably speculative, observations on parts of the president's agenda that have heavy, "actionable" consequences for Green Country.
This past year marks a tiny but portentous return of the production of "things" to the United States. Giant enterprises like General Electric and Apple, and smaller but strategic ones like Elon Musk's pioneering SpaceX venture and Tesla are reanimating domestic production lines, in-country part-making, and re-domesticating elements of the nation's front-rank firms. Interestingly, the intellectual foundations for some of this turnaround -- a change that could have profound impacts on U.S. employment and our volatile manufactory job sector in particular -- is the work of the Arthur D. Little consulting firm. Paradoxically, ADL was the impetus for the initial move by high profile U.S. firms to South Korea, Mexico, China, and other overseas enclaves where a good deal of American production and assembly now takes place.
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Later in the year, I will talk to the people who run Tulsa's big technical education operations and our manufacturers' co-op about how they see this momentous change. As it happens, there is a giant advanced manufacturing initiative, crafted by the Obama Commerce Department, to accelerate the return of making to our shores and to help U.S. manufacturers exploit emerging technologies in physical production, materials, bio-systems, and aerospace. And we are well positioned in Green Country to parlay these policies into practice, with our savvy oil patch production/industrial fabrication culture, OSU's downtown (taxpayer supported) Helmerich Advanced Manufacturing research facility, and our still small, but increasingly renowned, Fab Lab facility on South Lewis Avenue. We need to be a party to the outsized employment gains, new tools, seed-funding, and economic energy that will come from this national initiative and the still-nascent market forces that will amplify it.
Obviously Oklahoma is a sports crazy place. And just as obviously, football is king. Readers may be aware of last year's wrenching "discovery" of the profound player injuries, particularly brain and neurological damage spawned by high school, college, and professional football. This is very serious stuff: long-lasting and catastrophic damage has come to light in recent months via a bevy of rigorous research findings. Some of the media pieces about this existential threat to football contained amazing headlines, including more than one roughly titled, "The End of Football?"
Where are the sports medicine pros, the technologists, the software mavens who can craft the new protective gear, real-time/on-field diagnostic stuff, player therapies, and new game strategies to forestall this huge threat? How about OU and OSU's world-class team management and sports medicine outfits, and our still emerging community medicine colony at the new OU/TU doc school? Part of the way forward, surely for this epic sport, the giant Oklahoma business/university ecologies that have sprung up around it and our humongous fan cultures, will be an active, conscious reconsideration of how the sport is played and what can be done to mitigate the profound damage to participating athletes. And with the prospect of billions of dollars of preventive medicine, novel diagnostic systems and healthcare IT sparked by Obamacare, there is gold in "them hills." It would foolish -- with a capital "F" -- if Oklahomans failed to respond in an imaginative, positive way to this dual sided challenge.
Building Walkable "Hoods"
I've tried to marshal some of the very compelling evidence of the gut punch realities of climate change in these pages in the past two year: the profound economics of global climate change, the need to manage the middle-run impacts of this epic challenge, and prospects for harnessing Green Country's energy expertise to lead this tumultuous transition. If the president's inaugural address is any indication, this challenge will be central to the administration's road ahead for America. One avenue here will be the accelerated development of new "walkable," high density neighborhoods and the retro-fitting of our existing "cribs." A recent issue of Foreign Affairs magazine highlights these prospects in a very clear way. In a lucid essay, Patrick Dohery wrote about why walkable communities, sustainable economics, and multilateral diplomacy are the future of American power: "The halting logic of unwieldy climate negotiations will be supplanted by harnessing the greater force of economic self-interest: The United States will have to work with its partners to forge, implement, and verify a durable transition framework among the world's major economies ..."
Dohery went on to talk directly about new wave neighborhoods: "From 2014 to 2029, baby boomers and their children, the millennial generation, will converge in the housing marketplace seeking smaller homes in walkable, service-rich, transit-oriented communities. Already, 56 percent of Americans seek this lifestyle in their next housing purchase. That's roughly three times the demand for such housing after World War II ..."
Our already-in-progress epic review (the first in many decades) of Tulsa's zoning and subdivision regulations is a peerless opportunity to rethink multifamily housing design, the active use of cost saving construction systems, and accelerated local adoption of new energy/green practices. And maybe the city could strike up one or more affordable housing/next generation construction demo projects with the local apartment owners association, the Community Action Project (our renowned antipoverty agency), the Tulsa Housing Authority, some talent from our city planning unit, and a little consulting help from Shawn Schaefer's, the wonderfully proactive OU Tulsa/Urban Design Studio. In light of our 61st Street tragedy and some of the local talk about enhancing security at Tulsa's multifamily neighborhoods, it might be good to consider using imaginative design, behavioral science and demonstration efforts to improve security, in modest-cost housing.
And this arena has a creative, if short, history. Designer/Architect Oscar Newman's 1973 classic Defensible Space is a landmark contribution and is packed with actionable insights. Demo funding for these kinds of efforts might come with the second coming of the proposed National Infrastructure Bank -- a public/private capital funding "vehicle" high on the Obama 2.0 agenda. We could and should be a leader in this emerging walkable/housing security arena.
Get ready for Obama 2.0 -- we can belly up to the bar or get rolled: it's our choice.
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