POSTED ON NOVEMBER 9, 2011:
On A New Arc
Tulsa's big planning project finally underway?
The epic hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said:
"A good hockey player plays where the puck is...A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be."
And so it is with a city: good ones go with the flow, great ones anticipate the things required to retain exceptional young people, focus on growth and justice issues simultaneously and craft a hot line to economic and developmental futures that have leapfrog employment and economic potential.
Tulsa has a new city comprehensive plan -- it is imaginative, aggressively incorporates many of the best contemporary notions about urban development and city design, and has been shaped by thousands of Tulsans. Tulsa's new Plan is a soft machine for sparking walkability, higher densities, neighborhood "connectivity" and environmental sustainability. And if managed in an enlightened way, the Plan shields neighborhoods from auto centric projects with toxic traffic, hotdog footprints, single use monotony and predictable facades.
Our new city comprehensive plan is some months away from actual play: some observers attribute this pace to the extraordinary complexity of changing from a decades old plan to a new regime; others say that the snail's pace has a lot to do with the psychic and real energy sucked up by the nearly two year Mayor/Council impasse at Tulsa City Hall -- but we may be at a crossroads of sorts.
A sweeping review of the city's zoning regime: zoning systems are rules and overlays that determine what functions can go where and how intense development can be in any space; a zoning, law and systems company is in the final stages of contract negotiations with the City that will allow it to drive this massive re-look and prepare a host of recommendations that will tightly align Tulsa's zone code with the new machinery and myriad aspirations from the still fresh PlaniTulsa process.
The launch of a set of small area plans: detailed planning exercises that call for specific kinds of development activities in specific neighborhoods -- including a development corridor near the new Union/Tulsa Hills commercial district, an imaginative rework of the 11th-21st Sts. hospital/medical corridor and a sparking of the old Northland shopping center enclave. New temporary staffers have been hired to work with the City's tiny planning crew to execute these initiatives -- a third step that is much better than hiring an outside contractor operation since continuity is kept, but a move that some think undermines the Mayor's commitment to fully staff Tulsa's inventive new planning endeavor.
A rework of the character of the city's planning/urban design organization, structure and leadership -- a set of changes in planning, land use/development services management and strategic oversight at City Hall that could have profound consequences for transportation, mixed use development, higher density housing and some facets of economic development for Downtown, North Tulsa, Midtown and for the balance of the City.
Hello Dawn Warrick
Tulsa's new planning chief, scheduled to begin work on Dec. 16, is Dawn Warrick, a senior manager in Louisville Kentucky's Metro Planning & Design Services operation: an agency that "provides planning services to enhance and protect the economic, environmental, cultural, and resources of that community".
Warrick is a landscape architect and a geographer and is a board certified (American Institute of Certified Planners) urban planner. From the information available at press time, it looks as though Ms. Warrick is someone who has deep experience with community outreach, securing public participation in complex planning efforts and using technology for planning and enhancing public service delivery. She has had particularly extensive experience with computer mapping and digital cartography. She also, it appears, has serious exposure to some of the key notions at the heart of Tulsa's new planning imitative -- she was instrumental for example, in crafting Louisville's "Complete Streets" guide.
Complete Streets are a dramatic re-imagining of car/pedestrian/bike pathways and the interplay between these assets -- the concept is an innovative reconsideration of the size and character of streets and routes -- especially inside neighborhoods and other small intimate spaces. In a talk with Mayor Bartlett's community development chief, Dwain Midget, I learned that the recruiting team was looking for a person who was a "Goldilocks" candidate: not too pro-development, not too pro-neighborhood, etc. This is of course, not surprising.
Interestingly, Warrick is from Louisville's Metro government -- this is what London's Economist magazine said a little over two years ago about Louisville in an article with the intriguing title "Rise of the Super Mayor":
"Until recently Louisville seemed to be following the path of many industrial cities. Its factories were shedding workers. Middle-class whites were drifting to the suburbs and beyond. Between 1960 and 2000 the city's population dropped from 391,000 to 256,000.
Jerry Abramson (then Mayor), who had served his three terms as city mayor, easily won the top job in the new "Louisville Metro". Since then he has streamlined public services and accelerated the redevelopment of downtown Louisville..."
Hiring a planning chief from Louisville may be a not so tiny indication of Mayor Bartlett's and Tulsa's Metro-Chambers continuing interest in metro wide policing, transport systems and other "trans-city" service and taxing strategies: a set of strategies fully consistent with the long yeoman work of Green Country's regional planning agency (INCOG) and the explosive growth of ex-urban/suburban communities like Sperry, Broken Arrow and others.
We are obviously a market driven town, but our new and imaginative planning process -- one suffused with citizen participation and open to key stakeholders -- could be an almost magic glide path for Tulsa. The PlaniTulsa "comp" plan-- is a sort of "soft machine" for ratcheting up Tulsa's competitive prospects. When you match it up with a great performance from Tulsa's new planning chief, the effort could help spark a re-animation of physical planning, urban design, neighborhood redevelopment, economic development strategy and all sorts of Tulsa "futures" work. With some of the incentive machinery in the Plan, Tulsa could also do some of the long sought re-jiggering of growth between older areas and the City's edge that equity, logical use of public assets and land economics demands. If we are inventive, have some luck and get a little bit of moxie from Mayor Bartlett and our mostly new city council we could see the beginnings of a far more vibrant Tulsa.
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