POSTED ON APRIL 20, 2011:
Green Means GO!
Where did our pioneer spirit go, Tulsa?
Green Means GO!
The oil exploration and discovery boom, the astonishing growth of the Greenwood community and the Black Wall Street enclave, voluntary school desegregation and the "magnet school" movement, our half-forgotten trash-to-energy plant, and Tulsa's early role as a pioneer aviation community -- these were the hallmarks of a community intrigued, even obsessed with the new and the cool.
Is this stripe of Tulsa's character dead?
Maybe it's just sleeping -- maybe we can re-animate it by going beyond talk of making our city an alternative energy hub and do the things needed to get us on this road.
Friday, April 22 is Earth Day and in many ways, our city is like many others. Our daily experience is a testament to a sort of light environmental transformation.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. has instituted a "sustainability office" that seeks to ratchet-down the city government's use of electrical power and fossil fuels.
A few days ago the Tulsa Metro Chamber, the Mayor's office, the Oklahoma branch of the American Institute of Architects and the University of Tulsa co-hosted a fascinating meet-up for consultants, developers and entrepreneurs: the second annual national Renewable Energy Forum.
Steven Johnston, a gifted, often evocative science writer and the author of the recent Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, quotes what scientist Stuart Kaufman calls "the adjacent possible":
"What the adjacent future tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change ... "
Maybe Tulsa could get a closer to a local sustainable, energy-lean, environmentally conscious path if it embraced a different set of tactics.
This weekend, I had the privilege of experiencing a giant look-and-feel development mockup in Tulsa's Pearl District.
This mockup, or as some in the retail community call them, "pop-ups," was designed to showcase what the area might be like with lots of retail, some light commercial shops and an offering of bars and entertainment running the full length of the Pearl corridor.
Famously used in retail to intensely market a product or service offering without the expense, delay or risk of a permanent placement, a set of green pop-ups in Tulsa could be a powerful strategy to expose Tulsans to emerging green products and services.
Vendors could highlight their offerings with little risk, and pop-ups might make going green more tangible and accessible to wary Tulsans.
Tulsa could actively explore what many call serious games to advance clean energy, reduce energy consumption and better use mass transit and other lean energy strategies.
City Hall, one or more of our universities and a basket of large private firms could help us follow the lead of the Mayo Clinic, The World Bank and the U.S. military by fashioning a video game overlay for an aggressive energy/environmental work program.
Dr. Jane McGonigal, a VP at Palo Alto's Institute for the Future and a game designer, writes that video and mobile device games are helping to create unique incentives and unheard of cooperation: the oddly compelling character of games is being harnessed to secure progress on a host of trying social policy and national challenges.
Electric utilities are using serious gaming to encourage lower energy consumption by enticing homeowner groups and businesses to compete with their peers for prizes.
The serious game movement is still in its infancy. Tulsa could be a leader in this rapidly developing arena by piloting a high-profile energy management/incentive gaming project. PSO/AEP has already been recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy for a host of new smart energy efforts. A games project, backed by City Hall and the utility folks might put Tulsa in grand spot.
If we want to save energy, Tulsa should become a staging ground for novel energy conservation efforts and attract some new start-up companies along the way, playing with serious games might be a good gamble.
Feedback is an integral part of learning about our environment and ourselves.
There is a sea change swelling regarding how society is using detection and measurement technology, which entails using inexpensive sensors to monitor environmental conditions like water quality, climate and even the state of allergens in our neighborhoods.
Tulsa could develop a citywide sensor grid that uses a wild mix of artificial intelligence, digital maps, advanced visualization, computer modeling and smart phone apps to scan our city. Think weather forecasting and tracking, with a wild tweak. The November 2010 special issue of the Institute for Electrical & Electronic Engineering (IEEE) proceedings is filled with news on the increasing practicality and power of big sensor projects. A citywide sensor networks could, some gurus imagine, aid planning, environmental monitoring, agricultural and urban planning.
Our City Hall, Metro Chamber and a few other players could partner with early-stage commercial firms and/or a cadre of in-state academics to craft a high-resolution sensor system to monitor air, ground and water quality in Green Country, allowing officials and ordinary citizens to build rich, layered and dynamic profiles of Tulsa at a hyper-local level.
Imagine having access to a block-by-block ragweed map or a smart phone app that lets you know when you were entering a bad allergy part of town.
An advanced sensor project could be a test bed effort for Tulsa, and might yield revenues for other Tulsa green/development efforts. The sensor project could begin by soliciting the participation of an array of companies that are active in this arena -- encouraging all to see the initiative as a highly visible, large-scale demonstration opportunity.
Sometimes the way to show what's possible is ask adventurous people to do seemingly tough things -- things they may have thought were beyond them.
Tulsa could line up volunteers to do green things that here that regular folks would never imagine doing. In late 2010, the consulting company, Latitude asked a host of participants not to use their cars for one week -- the vast majority of participants had rated cars as the most necessary form of transportation.
Participants completed surveys about their attitudes and experiences prior to, during and after going without a car for a week. Tulsa could exploit a similar volunteer strategy while having the media and bloggers interact tightly with the folks who are in the middle of a set of planned environmental experiences.
Sometimes we see going, say without a car or walking more than a mile, as experiences that are far and away more difficult than in fact they are.
In any case, using volunteers to do challenging demonstrations in energy usage, transit, alternative work scheduling and local-only dining and grocery buying could be very powerful.
Using highly visible human trials might be a very compelling, tangible way of moving Tulsa towards doing green things on a regular basis and prove that doing good for the environment means bringing in jobs and a brighter, bolder future for our city.
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