POSTED ON OCTOBER 10, 2012:
State of Play
Vaporware at the river & other adventures
"We're the level of government closest to the majority of the world's people. While nations talk, but too often drag their heels -- cities act." That's a recent quote from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Many would intuitively agree. Washington, D.C. is paralyzed by political dysfunction, and nation-states and international institutions are proving incapable of dealing with the huge economic, environmental, and security issues that beset the world today.
The renowned political scientist Benjamin Barber has a provocative and compelling take on all of this. It's time to hand more authority and power over to elected leaders who actually get things done. We would all be a lot better off if, as he puts, it 'mayors ruled the world.'
"What If Mayors Ruled the World?" by Richard Florida, The Atlantic Cities, June 13, 2012.
We live in a world where cities are singularly important -- a time where city-scale innovation, counterpunching rising inequality with tight local efforts, metro scope environmental sustainability and urban-spawned quality of life efforts may be astonishingly central to the American future.
As anyone with a pulse knows, we're on the eve of a national election contest. Given his sizable lead in virtually all of America's battleground states, and news last week of still modest but significant improvements in employment and despite a subpar debate performance, it looks likely that Barack Obama will be reelected in November.
But this could mean not so much, in all likelihood, for American cities: not so much for places like Tulsa that have hot development prospects and agendas that require outside public funding. External funding will not be forthcoming because of the pathetic paralysis likely to come with continued domination of the U.S. House/Republican caucus.
In the event that Romney prevails, it's even more unlikely that American cities will see an infusion of new development dollars. Romney's counterproductive fixation on the deficit and a likely ratcheting down of federal outlays for new urban development efforts and transportation will complicate new investment here and elsewhere.
So, after Nov. 6, a shiny local future -- if we want it -- is something that Tulsans will have to fully imagine and largely fund. That's why Tulsa's Nov. 6 Vision2 proposition is extremely material.
My recent talks about "V2" with friends and peers in the engineering, real estate and development communities, people from large firms in T-Town and with my political buds, have all gone "wobbly." Specifically, folks won't talk to me on the record about their feelings on the proposition.
In my experience, this lacuna is tightly consistent with a proposal that's going south -- one that is likely to get a thumbs down from voters.
As most UTW readers know, the nearly $800 million proposition is designed, by the "Vision" advocates, to shore up our aerospace economy, create a special fund to "finish" economic development deals and power up an almost $160 million bundle of quality-of-life improvements.
The quality of life portfolio includes money for what seems to be a surprisingly vague river/dam development effort. It also includes a bunch of smaller allocations for our fabulous zoo, a much-needed north-side-centric park development initiative, and a host of other projects -- most of which are funded at strangely small, probably inadequate levels.
Wobbly Project Mix
Tulsa blogger Michael Bates has commented on this "fragmentation" puzzle. He starts by quoting a very pertinent 2003 observation from then Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick: "I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it."
Bates, in a recent posting, goes on to write that: "I had been looking at these items in isolation, but I'm beginning to see a pattern emerge. There are several instances with Vision 2025 and with Four to Fix the County Part 2 where the county allocated a small amount of money -- not enough to complete the project, but enough to use the project as a selling point to pass the tax. They're doing the same thing in Vision2. It's bait-and-switch."
The smallish allocation associated with several strategic projects is very troubling. I have in mind in particular the highly innovative OU/TU medical school project and the under defined, but critical, nursing school project at Tulsa Langston. Both of these education/bio med efforts are funded at under $5 million -- not a meaningful amount given the incredible importance of our biomedical sector for countering Green Country's huge health challenges and augmenting employment in a very hot growth sector.
I don't believe that our new aerospace proposition merits approval. American Airlines and its ongoing, weird, unresponsive behavior is part of my rationale here: It looks as though the Chamber and other advocates are somehow counting on American to do the right thing here: retain a substantial number of T-Town based workers in exchange for public support for a dramatic modernization of the maintenance and repair facilities (publicly owned) at Tulsa's airport campus.
But it looks as though the imperial leaders of American Airlines don't even have Tulsa on their radar screen. I've elaborated in earlier pieces on all this, but basically I'm appalled at the low level of business and public participation in the crafting of the aerospace proposition, believe it's too tightly tethered to a handful of large "tenants" on our airport campus, and don't see how the "aero" improvement package really goes to some of the epic, if still emerging, developments in commercial aviation, unmanned aerial vehicle commercial expansion and America's return to Space.
Another thing that deeply puzzles me: My contacts, former peers and buds in development and engineering -- folks who would only speak to me on background, find it, as I do, hard to see what we're trying to accomplish with the proposed river/dam project. Will we get a swimmable, "boatable," fishable river corridor as a consequence of the proposed $71 million pack and some other very contingent funds?
It looks as though we will still be far from any strategic change in the corridor's status, even with the proposed improvements: We need some wildly imaginative public/private augments that could produce real gains for Tulsa recreational users, for appropriate development and for our employment trajectory -- but the proposed dam array looks to be but a half effort.
So, I'm voting no on the aerospace/economic development. It was put together without sufficient public or boarder business involvement, may or may not help us secure current aerospace employment and lacks the "future" orientation that is super critical.
I'm voting yes, and very reluctantly, for the quality-of-life package. Parts of it merit your support.
But you have to eat the whole thing.
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