POSTED ON DECEMBER 16, 2009:
Down the Turnpike
Tulsans should look to rival Oklahoma City for future plans
Here's a vision to attract Tulsans of all ages back to the city core.
Let's connect downtown to the river with an urban park.
Let's develop the river, maintaining the green ribbon, which is our well-run RiverParks system, but encourage easier access and amenities close by.
Let's connect business and retail centers to residential communities with energy-efficient streetcars.
And, to encourage a more car-independent, let's repair our sidewalks and build more biking and walking trails.
People prefer traditional town to a modern suburb. It's the job of a city to provide an opportunity for quality urban living.
Twenty years ago, OKC city leaders saw the danger of a deteriorating downtown core-- a center of decay, which could potentially spread outward to the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.
As a state senator living in Oklahoma City during the legislative session, I've seen their leaders inspire optimism and hope first hand. What Tulsa needs is what Oklahoma City, even in difficult economic times, has just done. They have passed their third dedicated sales tax called MAPS 3 to support visionary improvements to their downtown. It's three quarters of a billion dollars of investment in their downtown and adjacent Bricktown districts.
You can see the future of Oklahoma City from the rooftops, and it looks good. The downtown spills over to the Bricktown entertainment and civic district. Downtown Oklahoma City is no longer simply an office hub. The district is encircled by a few hundred acres of prime real estate for residential living. Showcase downtown homes draw weekend crowds. Residents and tourists have many choices -- arts festivals, botanical gardens, museums concerts, art galleries, theatre, baseball games and a wide variety of restaurants, bars and other nightlife venues.
With the passage of MAPS 3, Oklahoma City planners are revving the afterburners. They have crafted an exciting and ambitious vision to connect the core of the city with mass transit and an urban park fusing downtown with the Oklahoma River. There are river improvement strategies as well as plans to build world-class kayaking and rowing facilities.
A new convention center is the anchor expenditure (though, I think the 70-acre urban park is what secures Oklahoma City's promising future).
And, as you would expect, public investment in downtown leverages private development.
Devon will invest $750 million to build a 50-story skyscraper. Oklahoma City University plans to move downtown. SandRidge Energy announced plans to spend $100 million in the Kerr McGee block, including the renovation of Kerr Park.
Since the passage of MAPS 1 in 1993, Oklahoma City has made tremendous progress to build a new, exciting, energetic downtown.
It's a city teeming with a new urban synergy.
Downtown is livable, walkable and connected to neighborhoods. Sales tax investment dollars are concentrated on an investment in a specific, existing corridor. The focus on targeted restoration and renewal has generated a strong sense of hope and confidence in the community. This community is primed for culture, entertainment, residential living and economic growth.
It's smart growth, too. Public infrastructure costs will decline if the city is successful in increasing its density. There will be more taxpayers to support quality municipal services, and the cost of those services will decline on a per capita basis as the city increases its population.
What can Tulsa learn from MAPS 3? A lot. It's time for us to express our impatience with complacency. Tulsa has a vibrant arts community and a lively cultural life. But we need to help the city develop an energetic core created by disparate elements (business, arts, retail and residential) working together.
Great cities require great planning.
Through PlaniTulsa, we learned that Tulsans are eager for a more compact city. With that basic theme, let's move ahead with a more focused and deliberate plan. We have an overabundance of valuable assets right here. The Arkansas River remains a great untapped resource. The architecture of our downtown is a magnificent tribute to our rich history. There is new renewed interest and development in Brady, Blue Dome, and Greenwood districts and the 6th Street arterial. The aesthetics of our area are enviable and we need to capitalize on them.
We can rightfully take pride in our national recognition as one of the most business-friendly cities in the country. Our labor costs are low. Our housing is cheap. The commute time is short. Gasoline and energy prices help make Tulsa a very affordable city.
Yet, a friendly business environment alone will not translate into rebirth or economic growth. We need a big and bold vision for our city right now.
Tulsa has lost 50,000 residents to our bedroom communities during the past few decades. Throughout the past 30 years, Tulsa has doubled the number of arterial lane miles, while the number of people per square mile has declined by three fold. That's an average of 25 miles a year in new street construction, which is expensive to construct and expensive to maintain. Our sales tax market share declines about 1 percentage point a year to the surrounding communities, which costs us more than a $1 million a year in lost sales tax revenue.
Tulsa has ever increasing infrastructure costs and a smaller tax base to support them. This is an unsustainable economic model.
While our leaders are struggling to come to terms with the immediate financial crisis, we need to continue to press for the expansive next vision to move our city ahead. Elected officials are responsive to their constituents and eager to be part of positive, innovative solutions.
Current times are tough, but the city will survive this difficult budget environment. So, let's keep the PlaniTulsa effort alive and help focus it. As Vision 2025 funding expires we need step to forward with a truly imaginative and innovative plan. Wide-spread public participation in the development of a visionary plan is a first step in building the consensus necessary to pass the necessary funding package. One needs only take a short trip down the turnpike to see what can happen when citizens band together for the future of their city.
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