POSTED ON MAY 6, 2009:
If You Want to Grow It, Show It
PLANiTULSA puts voters to the test: How badly do Tulsans want to revamp their city?
In less than a week, PLANiTULSA will launch a public survey asking Tulsans to rate four scenarios for our city's future growth and development. The survey is expected to draw the most participation of any step in the year-and-a-half-long process of developing Tulsa's first new comprehensive plan in a generation.
It's also the final significant opportunity for public input, so it's important for you to understand what the scenarios are, whence they emerged, and what will be done with the feedback you provide.
So pay attention! This is important. This material will be on the test.
The kickoff event for the PLANiTULSA survey will be at Cain's Ballroom on Tuesday, May 12, from 6-7pm. Described as "part pep rally, part social event," the party will be catered by Eloté Café (renowned for fresh Mexican food), with music by Little Chairs, a local roots rock band in the "Tulsa Sound" tradition.
Beyond the food and music, the goal of the kickoff is two-fold. In addition to giving citizens a chance to see scenario details and ask questions of the planning team, the aim is to generate enough buzz to get thousands of Tulsans to respond to the survey.
Planners are hoping for about 15,000 responses. That would be a very strong level of involvement compared to similar surveys that Fregonese Associates, lead planners for the PLANiTULSA process, have done for comprehensive plans in cities and regions around the country. There's hope that the enthusiasm that led to an overflow for last fall's citywide workshops will carry over to these surveys.
The six-county Grand Traverse region of northern Michigan went through the same process last October and November. 11,603 surveys were submitted, representing just less than 6 percent of the region's population. (Visit thegrandvision.org to see their results.) A proportional response for Tulsa would be around 22,000 surveys.
The Fregonese team has put together four growth scenarios based on the input received during the citywide workshops last fall, each representing a different approach to new growth. One scenario represents continuing on with our current growth pattern; the other three represent frequently recurring patterns in the maps developed by workshop participants.
The Tulsa metropolitan area is projected to grow by 164,000 people and to add 53,000 jobs over the next two decades. The scenarios provide different answers to the questions that are at the heart of a comprehensive plan: How much of that growth do we want the City of Tulsa to capture? What do we want that growth to look like? Where in the city would we like it to go?
There's a related question Tulsans need to answer: How much of the roughly $2 billion that will be spent on new transportation infrastructure during the next 20 years should go to street and highway widening and how much toward various forms of mass transit?
How we answer those questions and the development policies we adopt as a result will influence the kind of city our children and grandchildren will experience.
Today's Tulsans are living with the impact of planning decisions made more than 50 years ago, when our expressway network was mapped out and a development pattern for new neighborhoods was established. That pattern of single-use development, segregating where we live from where we work, shop, worship, study and play, was enshrined in our vintage 1970 zoning code.
The Fregonese team has run each scenario through their modeling software to estimate the scenario's impact on population, jobs, commuting time and demand for new infrastructure, among other key measurements.
I'll be able to provide a more definitive analysis once the final versions of the scenarios and the survey have been released. For now, here's a summary of the four scenarios, based on drafts that have been shown to the PLANiTULSA citizens' team, of which I'm a member.
We Built This City
As you read these descriptions, keep in mind that the planners have already taken out of play those areas which would be unlikely or controversial to redevelop. These "masked out" areas include single-family neighborhoods, historic preservation districts, parks and floodplains.
Remember too that these descriptions are necessarily oversimplified. Maps showing new development, shaded to represent density, will be in the survey literature. I'm hoping that the Web site will provide more detailed information, showing the locations of different types of development and transportation as separate map layers.
Scenario A represents the current trend, which could also be called "business as usual," with the bulk of new development occurring in the suburbs, dominated by single-family housing. Under this scenario, only 17 percent of metro area population growth would take place within the Tulsa city limits. (The other three scenarios have Tulsa capturing 44 percent to 62 percent of metro area population growth.)
Scenario B is modeled after the aggregate of the more than 100 maps created by participants in last fall's citywide workshops. Workshop participants showed a strong preference for high-density, mixed-use development that brings together homes, jobs, shopping, and entertainment, as evidenced by the "chips" (representing various types of development) they selected and placed on their maps.
Scenario B, subtitled "Main Street Redevelopment," reflects this preference, putting the highest density development downtown and in nearby neighborhoods that want redevelopment, such as the Pearl District and Crutchfield.
While 62 percent of Tulsa's households are in single-family homes, only 33 percent of new development under Scenario B would be for single-family; the remainder would be multi-family and townhouses. (The resulting housing mix would still be 57 percent single-family, a shift but not a massive one.)
Arterials that already have something of a Main Street character would see that character reinforced and extended, with mixed-use pedestrian friendly development replacing auto-oriented commercial development. For example, you might see a modern version of Brookside-type development further south along Peoria toward 71st and along North Peoria as well.
Other opportunities for increasing density exist in other parts of the city, where underused retail centers and their vast, underused parking lots could be replaced with a mixture of apartments, townhomes, shopping and offices.
Scenario B imagines turning industrial areas along highways and railroad lines into transit-oriented mixed-use development--for example, along the old MK&T tracks near 11th & Lewis, 41st and Memorial, and 51st and US 169.
Scenario C and D represent development approaches are variations that were each embraced by a substantial minority of workshop participants.
Scenario C, "New Centers," is similar to B in that it puts growth downtown and along key arteries. But it puts more emphasis on single-family housing, and it would create new centers of development in places like 21st St. & 145th East Ave., North Peoria, and near 71st St. & U.S. 75. These new centers would have housing, jobs, shopping and services all in close proximity and would be linked by transit to one another and downtown.
Scenario D, "Central City," is the sustainable development option, with most of the growth downtown and near downtown. This option is the most effective at putting residents near parks and open space. It also consumes the least amount of vacant land.
Scenario D is the most transit-focused option, putting 73 percent of future transportation capital dollars to transit. Scenarios B and C are split 59 percent for road improvements and 41 percent for transit improvements. (The trend is 99 percent for roads, 1 percent for transit.)
I was surprised to see that, according to the Fregonese models, Scenario D's significantly higher transit investment only boosted the percentage of regular transit riders, pedestrians and cyclists by two percentage points, from 15 percent for B and C to 17 percent for D.
(All three were significant improvements over the 5 percent transit/pedestrian share for Scenario A, the current trend.)
So now that the planners have put together these four potential growth scenarios, they're asking Tulsans for feedback. There will be a booklet showing each of the scenarios and how they compare on key indicators.
A survey on the back page will ask you to rank the scenarios on how well each fits your needs and desires for housing, transportation and job options, and how they match the kind of city you want to live in. You can mail, fax or drop off the survey.
You'll be able to answer the same questions online (via planitulsa.org).
The planners will use the survey results to put together a detailed comprehensive plan, which will be presented to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) for consideration. The final draft may be a blend of scenarios, reflecting the likes and dislikes expressed in the survey.
Adopting the plan is a legislative act, so the final decision is with the City Council. As with any ordinance, the mayor could choose to sign or veto, and the Council could override a veto with a two-thirds vote.
The exact timing of the final steps is still up in the air. It would be ideal to have the draft plan presented to the TMAPC sometime in late summer, so that whether to adopt or not would be the central issue of this fall's city elections.
A big turnout at Cain's next Tuesday, May 12, would be a great way to launch this important public input process. I hope to see you there, but whether or not you can make it, please take time during the next few weeks to fill out a PLANiTULSA survey and let planners know how you want Tulsa to grow.
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